The Basic Income Grant (BIG) and its possible effects on Marikana

by Simone Knapp, Ecumenical Service on Southern Africa

Worldwide, the basic income is once again under discussion, whether as emergency security for a short time or as long-term security for the entire population. In its recently published report, the United Nations Development Agency UNDP, for example, proposes a temporary basic income grant for the poor to combat the corona pandemic. According to the UNDP report, the amount for an emergency BIG for the poor should be at least 650 to 1100 Rand per month per beneficiary. What would the introduction of a universal, unconditional basic income grant mean, for example, for the communities in the mine regions, for the mine workers and their families?

A BIG would indeed redistribute the country’s wealth, especially to those who historically have lost access to it through colonialism, land expropriation, apartheid, the capitalist economic system and the persisting racism. At the same time, families would no longer be so dependent on a single breadwinner’s salary. Especially in the migrant labour system, which is still intact for recruiting miners from remote rural areas of South Africa or neighbouring countries, the remaining families could survive and would not be dependent on remittances from workers in the mining regions. Young people would have the chance to afford an education instead of slipping into their parents’ miners’ boots. Mzoxolo Magidiwana, for example, tells in the film “Miners shot down” how he was forced to give up his study plans when his father died.

Marikana shows the drama of the mining region very clearly: where there used to be a small village, today around 20,000 workers have to be accommodated. Since the mining company – in this case it was Lonmin – failed to provide sufficient living space, the workers had to help themselves. With their salaries they rented in the houses whose owners built simple shacks for themselves in the backyard, since renting is often their only source of income.

But a BIG would also be a long-term gain for the raw material regions, especially in the struggle between climate protection and job preservation. The campaign “let the coal in the hole and the oil in the soil” is repeatedly met with resistance from those who work in the mines. Their jobs are at stake. With a BIG, they would have enough time to find their bearings elsewhere, perhaps even to build something up in their home regions in rural areas. Experience from Namibia has shown that the local economy benefits most from a BIG and that self-employment increases massively.

The emancipatory value of a basic income is much higher than the monetary value, which is why many governments shy away from using this means. They prefer to show the hard side in times like these, beat up their citizens rather than listen to them and their needs, or at best fob them off with peanuts while their officials secure the big pieces of the pie.