Interview with Taku Fundira, member of SPII senior economy researcher, research manager and advocate for SADC BIG campaign and speaking for the whole Southern African region.
Can you remember you very first encounter with Basic Income?
Oh yes, I do – it was 2 years ago – I had just changed jobs, previously I was in International Trade – to my current employment in social economic justice, social protection and income security. That is when the debate started, it was a new learning curve, discussing the pros and cons of Basic Income.
We are developing econometric models on the impact of BIG to the local economies in SADC – Southern African Development Community, trying to find out, what would be a working model for BIG in South Africa, and the whole SADC region.
Can you tell us a bit about Basic Income history in South Africa?
I think if you look at South African history, and the start of democracy 1994 – the governing party, the African National Congress (ANC) – their part of their goals has always been to address poverty and income inequality through the redistribution of wealth. Unfortunatley, in the last 20 years things haven’t gone to their orginal plan as we still have high levels of poverty, unemployment and the inequality gap still very big..
Following recommendations from the 1999 inter-departmental task team report a commission was set up to to look at comprehensive social security system for South Africa which was know as the Taylor commission , which in 2002 highlighted a Basic Income Grant as one of the recommendations. At the time, it was shown that South Africa can afford a BIG – and it should become part of the policy! Furthermore, a BIG Coalition existed which was pushing for the roll out of a BIG, which unfortunately was not adopted as policy by government.
What we noticed: They expanded in existing programmes – they are limited to certain members of public and means tested. At least extending these programmes is a step in the right direction. We would like to see the end goal being the provision of a universal Basic Income Grant not only in South Africa, but the rest of SADC.
SADC makes the point that the South of Africa is the richest in resources, but the income inequality is the worst in the world – where does all the wealth go?
During the Apartheid there was a deliberate move by the government to create cheap labour (from black South Africans) and the effects are still in place now, most of the income now is still in the hands of the white minority. That’s why right now we still have high levels of unskilled labour. This is especially true for the mining industry.
In SADC, time and again, governments are saying the don’t have money to fund universal social protection programmes – but we know we have the resources inside our countries to do so.
US$62 billion leaves the African continent annually through illicit flows and price manipulation by multinationals – this has to get restructured, so the wealth stays within the borders of the region, to finance BIG.
Otherwise, exploiting the continent’s resource further and not reinvesting in the continent’s future will leave future generations without any resources to benefit from.
The buzz is domestic resource mobilisation and less reliance on donor AID. Africa can fund its own development.
For these goals, as a civil society we have to make a big noise to the right people and to our politicians.
In Europe the media and politicians are calling the current flow of asylum seekers a „migrant crisis“ – can you describe the current situation for refugees in the SADC countries?
South Africa is the main receipient of migrants, although we dont see this as a crisis.
Most people are seeking economic opportunities and unfortunately South Africa is seen as the land of dreams, although in reality, it has its own challenges.
For us a BIG can limit these migration patterns as it creates certainty of an income and people can plan around that minimum income.
Is there a majority for BIG – anywhere in the population or in politics or with economic leaders?
In all honesty – the public perception of BIG is in an infancy stage, a whole lot of people are not aware of the context and see cash transfers as charity. They think „they are for the lazy“, think that they promote social ills like alcoholism, teenage pregnancy etc.
For us, we have been raised with that idiology that : „you have to find a job to be somebody in society“ – so if you don’t, it is attached to stigma.
It needs a change in ideology – that it is not about charity, it is about justice, a basic human right.
There are certain politicians that are supporting the idea of BIG, because they have been exposed to scholars, experiences from other countries etc, and there are some that are completely opposed to it. They need to see some person who has received a cash transfer and see the good outcomes for themselves, to change their minds.
We are looking at the known pilots in Latin America and Otjivero (Namibia) to demonstrate the positive impact and persuade our politicians.
Sometimes politicians use the BIG pilots for their election campaigns, like „if you don’t vote for us – you don’t get this grant“ this is manipulating.
We need a massive campaign on informing and politicising.
How would Cash Transfers work and how do the study outcomes from the Namibian basic income project influence BIG?
At the moment all cash transfer pilots are means tested by income level. (In South Africa about US$<3000/year single parent families and <6000/year for whole families for the child support grant)
South Africa has the most comprehensive cash transfer programmes, which are financed from the fiscus, in comparison to other countries in SADC. (for children, the elderly or disabled, for fostered children etc.)
In other SADC countries the grants come from an international donor community, like governments, European NGOs, US AID – only in South Africa are they self-financed now, by taxes. Before, South Africa received direct budgetary support from international donors (EU is one example) but this is being / has been phased out and any support is mainly project specific currently.
Is there cooperation with other countries? Do you know, for instance, about the Alaska dividend?
Yes, we know about the creation of sovereign law funds – to create revenue from something other than finite resources, like oil, so our next generation can enjoy the benefits as well. We see evidence of those in Alaska, also in Iran or Libya. We are very aware of the big challenge we have, and like every hard won gain it won’t be won over night.
What is actually happening is this: We think that cash transfers are the way to go. We have a shared vision of promoting universal access – we are operating in Southern Africa, so we formed a coalition of all Southern African States – SADC, it is a very lose coalition of states who share visons of social security. There are 15 countries (Congo, Tanzania, Seychelles, Angola, Zambia, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Madagascar, Swaziland, South Africa, Lesotho) and we are working towards a national coalition in each one. We campaign for universal cash transfers on a national level.
SPII is a secretariat of this coalition – we aid other countries to start BIG coalitions nationally, like they already have in Namibia. Some are countries are working in silence, and we say: „No, let’s combine forces and speak with one voice.“
We call them „champion countries“ – the ones who expand their cash transfer schemes.
So we combine forces and resources and learn from each other’s experience.
Why do you think International Week is important for BIG?
Any coverage for BIG is good coverage, and the fact that it is being discussed on a global level will help our cause in Southern Africa – we feel that, the more people who think BIG is the way to go forward, the easier it is for our cause.
In Europe the figures bandied about are far more than what we ask for – our challenge is the funding, our resources – about changing ideology.
What have you got planned in terms of activities for the International Week?
First of we have made it known to our coalition partners.
- In Malawi they are holding an event on 21st to discuss BIG, where they invited the government has been invited.
- In Mozambique they celebrate Social Protection week every year – this year it is from 12th-18th Oct – and BIG will be the main topic!
While they are focussing their efforts on that, they will aim to do a press statement about International Week.
- In Zambia they host seminar dialogues throughout the year, we are not sure if there are any dates next week, but they will also at least aim for a press statement also.
- In Zimbabwe they do BIG debate in high school and University debating societies.
- We in South Africa target every platform about BIG:
Last Wednesday I did a 5 minute talk in Pretoria about BIG to the extractive industry during a seminar represented by different organisations who have an interest in international trade and industrial development, the focus was, that transfer pricing and mispricing should be added to debate of BIG. There will probably be another debate, but the week after the 20th.
And on the 16th we aiming to be on radio to discuss about the BIG.
- We from SADC also did a presentation about BIG in Ethopia, during an event from 25th-28th Aug.
What is your vision for UBI, for South Africa, the whole of Africa and worldwide?
We would like to see our countries investing more in social protection and more specifically income security. We believe in a minimum income for all as a basic human right, which is justiciable and our governments have an obligation to provide for this;
We believe in the call to leave no one behind, and we are convinced that Africa has enough resources to finance its own UBI. The challenge is about political will; our people have to demand this right and only then can governments act.
We call for UBI in SADC that is predominantly funded through extrative resources and other funding sources; We urge our governments to invest part of the proceeds and create sovereign wealth funds for the benefit of future generations considering that this is a finite resource.
UBI is not the panacea and for Africa, other social development programmes need to be in place for Africa to develop.
We need to track where Europe started from and follow that process and this will not happen overnight.
- Taku Fundira, is a member of SPII senior economy researcher, research manager and advocate for SADC BIG campaign and speaking for the whole Southern African region.
by Manja Taylor, 10.09.2015
ZIMCODD is a socio-economic justice coalition preoccupied with the quest for Social and Economic Justice. The Coalition was established in February 2000 to facilitate citizens’ involvement in making public policy and practice pro-people and sustainable. Its vision is the attainment of Sustainable socio-economic justice in Zimbabwe through a vibrant people based movement. Its mission in pursuit of this vision is to take action against the Debt burden and Social & Economic Injustices. This will be achieved primarily through: read the 2015 SADC Peoples Summit Debates A5 Report