Protect The Basic Income Grant ConceptBy: Bob Kandetu
NBC television aired a debate on the Basic Income Grant (BIG) initiated by Namibians, including Bishop Zephania Kameeta. NBC presented opinion leaders from Civil Society to interrogate issues pertaining to BIG.
The discussion centred around whether it made sense to give people one hundred dollars when they needed more to stay alive, whether it made sense to open up the income grant to all and not only to the poor and this hinged on whether even the national pension scheme should be open to all as a matter of entitlement or whether it should be means tested and applied as such.
As I watched the debate I remembered that the realization by the BIG promoters was similar to what had impelled us at the Council of Churches in Namibia during the struggle to create a welfare system that gave beneficiaries money. It was interesting to recall that the basic grant at the time was one hundred rand. That was circa 1986. At the time we were surrounded by parents who could not send children to school because there was no money, children of political prisoners and political detainees because their parents were locked up by the Apartheid regime. We were equally surrounded by the children of the storm, who were thrown out of the school system because they have been seen demonstrating against the Apartheid system and or have been released from South Africa’s prisons for augmenting the struggle for justice. The church leadership then gathered and said, we must do something about this and history must judge us for having tried and failed because of limited resources. History must judge us not for having been afraid to address the plight for fear of criticism.
When I saw Kameeta associated with this thrust, I remembered the years of upheaval and I was emotionally moved. And I found it a pity that this debate was taking place in free Namibia, more than twenty years after independence, at a time when the nation expects provision of the basic services by the state to our society.
This in the final analysis reminded me of what my former business partner Kobie Koetzee once said to me: ‘Bob!’ he said, ‘If we at independence had introduced free education and training from pre-school through tertiary levels, we would have closed all our national prisons by now.’ While Kobe’s statement may have romantic overtones, it was rooted in logical rationale. Namibia has done well with programs such as employment creation and others, but we remain wanting with regard to solidifying education and training programs. Perhaps that is why employment creation has not proven to be successful as the industries demand a much more skilled work force than society is able to throw up to them, through employment creation.
The Basic Income Grant may not be the solution to Namibia’s challenge of income disparities, which in itself exacerbates poverty and in turn feeds into the conundrum of illiteracy and limited employable skilfulness among many Namibians. As I watch Zephania Kameeta desperately collecting money to offer a livelihood in the Omitara camp at Oshivelo, I remember the words of one Brazilian Bishop Don Helda Kamara, who used to make the statement in the face of adversity from repressive regimes in his part of the world: ‘When I feed the hungry, they call me saint... when I ask why the poor have no food, they call me communist.’
BIG was born out of concern for the poor and we shall not address our income disparities and poverty trap through bashing BIG.