By Charles Ngoma
Many years ago I used to pass by the ‘Labour Office’ to see people lingering outside this government building waiting for work. There was a black board outside the office which would have a list of available jobs written with white chalk. ‘Carpenter – 2 years experience,’ ‘Brick – 5 years experience’ and so on. In my childhood mind then, I determined that I should never have to visit a place like this in my life. I should get a good education, and have a job for life. ‘I shall not be a labourer.’
When I came to the United Kingdom, I found a similar situation but it was called the ‘Job Centre.’ I found that even Engineers and other so highly qualified people go there to look for vacancies! What is the difference between ‘Labour’ and ‘job?’ Labour has connotations of servitude, hard slog, low wages, sweat and blood. The Concise Oxford dictionary defines the noun Labour among others as ‘work, especially hard physical work and workers, especially manual workers, collectively.’ It is clear from this that to labour is to do something hard and difficult. We talk about the ‘hard working middle class’ but not of the hard working billionaires. It seems to me that the more ‘hard’ working one is, the poorer they are! Talk of a family in rural Africa. They wake up way before sunrise. Walk miles for water and firewood. To answer to the call of nature is an inconvenience and an intrusion in the cycle of life. It takes a while to find a safe private place in the dry season! Come back to the ‘house shack’, light a fire and set up for the first and probably only meal of the day before going to the fields to work on the land all day till sunset! It is not difficult for this family to fall on the mat on the floor at night and get into deep sleep. That is HARD work. The United Nations classifies these folk as ‘poor’ because they live on less than a dollar a day! I have problems with this definition of poverty, but that is not my subject at the present time. Somewhere else in the world, a smaller family is aroused from sleep by alarm clocks. Hot water bath or shower 3 meters from the bed and after a 1000 calories breakfast, ease themselves into a motorised vehicle to transport them to the work place or school. Back home eight hours later, settle down in the living room and watch television while supper is made ready and back into a comfortable bed. Life has not been so hard so it is difficult to sleep, yes, a couple of pills and a glass of wine, should do. ‘Na nite!’
The countries we so much admire were once upon a time just like us, although that is more than 500 years ago! They got to where they are today primarily because they employed cheap labour. Someone else had to do the jobs and be exploited. When their own people got fed up and began to rebel against the harsh labour conditions and demand ‘rights,’ the slave trade provided the work force needed. To enslave another human being, one has to consider them less than human. When the conscience of the slave traders and owners was smitten, slavery was abolished and colonialism took its place. The colonised peoples were human but of inferior class. They were made to work for the colonial master, but for their own good. Colonisation was a civilising factor, so the colonisers thought. Cecil Rhodes dream was to make every human being as ‘the finest of all races,’ the English man. ‘Development’ has come, has always come on the backs of cheap and exploited labour. Times have changed and it is no longer acceptable to enslave other human beings, and there are no lands to colonise.
To bring development to our lands, there must be a new thinking, a paradigm shift. Human beings cannot be exploited anymore. No matter how much you pay a human being, it will never be enough. For good profits to be gained, someone along the chain must be exploited. I am amazed that a Bank executive takes a $4 million bonus while at the same time laying off a thousand lower ranking banking staff who actually did the work day in and day out for the bank to do so well as to make a profit and give this boss a ‘bonus!’ There is nothing ‘good’ in this bonus. However, the lower paid workers are not envious of the ‘bosses’ but will do their job and carry on nonetheless with pride and dignity.
To change our thinking, we must change the words we use. That is one reason why as soon as a country gains independence, there are name changes. I believe that the first day of May should no longer be called ‘Labour Day’ but something else. If we want to celebrate what our people are doing, we could call it ‘Workers’ day. However, that would be hard on those who do not have any formal employment. If we want to emphasise ‘work’ as a right for every citizen, we could call it ‘Jobs’ or ‘Work’ day. Every government worth its salt, wants to create jobs for its people. We have to face the fact that government does not make money but spends it. Governments only get money from the taxes they impose on their people. The more people work and earn, the more money goes into government coffers. Can a government really make ‘more jobs? Politicians like to promise this and sadly the electorate believe them. A government can only employ more people by spending more of the people’s money! It is a vicious cycle. Government squeeses taxes from its citizens, then spends the money on contracts which employ more people, who are further taxed, for more contracts. At the end of the day, it is the same amount of money in circulation. What needs to be realised is that people must work for themselves.
Work needs to be a pride and a joy and not a hassle. The Jew would thank God that he was a Jew, he was a man and he had a trade. Is there any wonder that the most successful people in the history of mankind have been Jews! They value work as a blessing and not as a pain. President Sata was right when he told the Labour Day gathering that high levels of productivity could only be attained through a positive work culture and attitude. However, the theme of the ‘celebrations’ was ‘Enhancing Worker’s rights to sustain national development.’ There is an elephant in the room. The problem here is the assumption inherent in this statement, ‘worker’s rights.’ The assumption is that if you are a worker you need protection from someone else. Who is that someone? The employer! No. This is a misrepresentation of what should be. A worker does not have to be working for someone else, they should be working for themselves! The success of the company, business or government depart in which one is working has a direct bearing on the livelihood of the employee. Take for example, a medical worker who takes a call that there has been an assault and a man is seriously injured. The officer is indifferent to this call, and he cannot be bothered because of ‘poor conditions of service.’ The following day, his child returns from school early. Why? There was no teacher today because the teacher was assaulted last night and he died. Even if one is an employee, they should learn first and foremost that they are actually working for themselves.
The wealth of a nation comes through the capacity of individuals to create wealth through self or state sponsored enterprises. There is so much talk about ‘natural resources’ but that is not the real source of wealth. The little country of Gibraltar has no ‘natural resources’ at all and yet the economy has escaped the global down turn and neighbouring Spain is in intensive care. It is the only country in the world (apart from the Vatican) that has 100% employment! There are two kinds of self-employment. The formal and informal. Everyone knows of someone who has a source of income that will never be known to the tax man or come into the computers of the government statisticians. This is how many people in Africa as a whole survive! This is not only true for the lowly in the society; it is true even for the educated as well as leaders! There are engineers, doctors, teachers, nurses, accountants who have other sources of undeclared income. Many of these people are breaking the law, because they are denying the state of taxable income, but state casts a blind eye to these activities because everyone is doing it to supplement their ‘small’ salaries. I used to buy vegetables from Police men who had vegetable gardens within the Police camp! One would argue that what they earn from such enterprise is not a lot, but I say that it could enough to push one’s earnings to above the tax threshold!
We are all workers, or we should be, and we should be proud of it. Let him who does not work not eat. Let him that stole steal no more. If an able bodied person who has reached adulthood is fed, clothed and sheltered but he does not work, he is a thief. Yes, he is stealing from others. In countries that have welfare arrangements, people like this, steal from the State. I cannot understand how a 20 year old with a high school education, is happy to sit idly in his parents or guardians’ house doing nothing, because he is too proud to work as a domestic servant! Where is the pride in scrounging, compared to working? No matter what kind of work it is, we must engender in our children’s minds the honour of work above idleness! The plumber has as much potential to becoming a millionaire as an accountant. The builder can be wealthier than the teacher. It is not the type of work that you do that will earn you wealth; it is the attitude you have to your work! Let us celebrate WORK!