Value of people

This article was first published in the fourth-quarter 2012 edition of Personal Finance magazine.

The Marikana massacre and all of the connected issues have remained at the centre of our news for weeks. In a country where news comes and goes like a flash in the pan, this is a long stay. It even managed quickly to evaporate the bliss we were enjoying after the relatively good showing of our athletes at the London Olympics.

Many have ventured to analyse the possible reasons for our strange fascination, outrage and even dark relish of the events unfolding in the platinum belt in the North West province of our country. The reasons are numerous, complex and multi-layered and yet in many ways basic and very simple to comprehend. Allow me to throw my five cents’ worth into the discussion.

I believe the Marikana situation is a national discussion in which South Africans are being forced to engage with the concept of “value”. It is not the conversation to which we have grown accustomed in our various comfort zones at the braai or the dinner table or even on the street corners of our dusty townships where we can give out a sigh of helplessness and continue with our lives.

This, I contend, is the first real warning shot of the possible reality we may be facing on a national scale if we do not sit up and pay attention – and we all know it. We all realise, at a very deep level, that the honeymoon is over and that we cannot continue with “business as usual”, where the unholy alliance of government, unions, big business and the media collaborate to exploit the working classes and the unemployed to make super profits.

We are all being forced to take a hard look at how we understand the value of other human beings and whether the economic structures in which we live and operate can continue to function when some

sectors of the population are beginning to say: “This far and no further. No longer will I be valued as an after-thought after all the fat cats have gorged themselves off the profits of my honest hard labour.

I will no longer be an expense in your balance sheet; I am an asset, an important part of the top line. I am not interested in your mystical educated clap-trap about so-called economic fundamentals. I am a man, dammit!”

The jury is still out on what exactly happened on that fateful day when men ran towards a hail of bullets. Were they fleeing from a clandestine, nefarious force of killers or was it the maddened rage of men resigned to the ultimate price in order to scream out to you and me that “I am worth more than what you say I am worth. I am a man, for God’s sake! Not a variable in a business plan!”

We hope the investigators will be men and women led by conscience and not by the dictates of expedience, so that we may arrive at the truth in all of its complexities and, yes, its simplicities.

We hope those in power will take principled action in order to bring justice to all those who have been affected by this incident, including the 10 who were brutally murdered, allegedly by the miners, prior to the massacre of the 34.

Whatever the outcome of the investigations into the tragic events at Marikana, we dare not miss the message of the images we saw on TV, for now. We dare not miss the message of warning about the value of those who work for us.

To the driven career woman, don’t miscalculate the value of your loyal domestic worker who is the mother of your children in your absence and the stabiliser of your home. To the taxi owner in Mitchells Plain and Soweto, remember the value of your taxi drivers; perhaps they will be more considerate of other road-users in the knowledge that they are valued. To the chief executive of the large corporation, remember the value of the clerks, the secretaries and the managers in your offices.

The message of Marikana is to bring us to the understanding that we can no longer continue to see people as a cost, but as a value. We must immediately change the way we think about the economy, its principles and philosophies, and bring human value into it.

Marikana is a call to a massive and fundamental paradigm shift in the conceptualisation of our economy. The alternative is too horrible to contemplate.

* Aubrey Masango is a motivational speaker, talk-show host and columnist, and he teaches and facilitates entry-level management courses.


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