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We need the basic income grant to stop a ticking time bomb

The debate whether Basic Income Grant (BIG) is necessary in a country such as ours has gained considerable momentum in recent times.

The debate whether Basic Income Grant (BIG) is necessary in a country such as ours has gained considerable momentum in recent times.

Published Aug 24, 2021

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Koert Meyer

Cape Town - The debate whether Basic Income Grant (BIG) is necessary in a country such as ours has gained considerable momentum in recent times.

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Since our own Elon Musk has thrown his weight behind a universal BIG, there can be no doubt that the clamour for such a drastic intervention is now unstoppable.

South Africa became the most unequal country in the world in the last few decades with its history of mass exploitation of the poor and underprivileged in the form of cheap labour. This in itself is a ticking time bomb.

Since most of our major mining houses reported record interim results which swelled the fiscus remarkably with higher iron-ore and coal prices, this could be the stimulus for the government to rethink the introduction of BIG.

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To get an idea of the magnitude of our mineral riches one only has to look at our freight rail transport system which is tasked with transporting three of these minerals, namely iron-ore, coal and manganese to our ports for export to eastern countries.

The 861 km iron-ore line stretching from Sishen in the Northern Cape Saldanha in the Western Cape was built in the 1970s. It runs through our most arid region.

Manganese is conveyed on the line stretching from the Northern Cape to the Coega port in the Eastern Cape, and the coal line from Limpopo and Mpumalanga to Richards Bay in KwaZulu-Natal. These two are carrying mixed freight.

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Of the three the iron-ore line carries the largest loads in tonnage and also the longest trains in kilometre length. There are three trains each day.

At present these trains are approximately 3.5km in length, the high-powered locomotives, some diesel and some electric powered, pulling 341 fully-laden wagons in front, in the middle and some pushing at the back. The middle and rear ones are called help or slave locomotives. Each trainload yields 34 000 motorcars.

Only one driver is needed in the front locomotive since the whole train is computer-operated. Recently a lady driver made international news as a female driver of such a massive train, an engineer as assistant. Fortunately there is little vandalism and cable theft on this line.

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It takes about 27 hours to complete the distance with loops at strategic points where trains pass each other and drivers switch trains.

These trains are so long that motorbikes are used to take drivers to their locomotives. If a motorist is caught up at a level-crossing he will sometimes have to wait as long as 15 minutes for a train to pass.

Last, our country is involved in healthy competition with Australia and Brazil where equally long trains are operated, to see which country will be the first to operate a train of more than 7km in length. How proud will our country be with such an achievement.

Since mining is our largest generator of fiscal income in the form of taxes, it could and should be complemented by our agricultural industry, forestry, fisheries, tourism and vehicle manufacturing. Unfortunately mining is the one that will be depleted in the near future, but the others will continue for all time, and should be expanded and improved.

To fight the current evils of poverty, unemployment, inequality, vandalism, crime, gangsterism, looting and others, and to make our citizenry feel that they belong and will benefit from our wealth as mentioned in the Freedom Charter, how beautiful will it be when the government implements the Basic Income Grant of R100 per month for all its citizens, including children.

Some may consider this amount to be too little, (or too much), but it's a good start since poorer families will benefit tremendously. For a start in preparation for its implementation, all citizens must be encouraged to acquire their ID documents and thereafter bank cards in order to access theirs. When drawing their money, the bank slip should clearly state that it is how our wealth is shared with all our citizens.

Oil-rich states have always been rewarding their citizens with much lower fuel prices, lower taxes, better infrastructure, education, health and social services, and some even hand out grants. The results are happy, healthy and law-abiding citizenries.

It will not only stimulate our struggling economy, but will, importantly, narrow the gap between the rich and the poor significantly.

No opposition party will reject such a welcome hand-up for our suffering poor and marginalised if they are serious and sincere about nation-building.

MEYER is an anti-death penalty and apartheid activist, former history educator and scholar.

Cape Times

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