Why do we discourage personal hard work?

Sun, 04 Dec 2016 10:19:05 +0000


Mwiine Lubemba

I get a lot of jokes on social media platforms such as Facebook, Instgram, WhatsApp, Hangouts etc from colleagues, but last Wednesday there was this particular adulterated Bemba wise saying (amapinda) that almost broke my ribs and got me thinking for today’s article: “Usunga umunankwe = eumutumpika.”

The literal English interpretation would be: the person who takes care of a friend’s needs makes him stupid.  The original unadulterated Bemba wise saying is a complete opposite as it means the person who takes care of a friend’s needs is a good person…

I asked around, and I’m told every tribe in Zambia has similar wise sayings or idioms- in fact a Ngoni family friend in his mid-70s told me that the practice in villages carried on from ancient times, was that every villager knew the rainy season was a time for hard work and other villagers didn’t bother you if you chose to go out and drink beer or stayed in the village and smoked dagga all day instead of cultivating your field for the following years food harvest. The entire village would merely let you starve.  As a result everyone in the village ensured they cultivated enough food to last until the next harvest.

Indeed, the Christian Bible quoting generations past and even socialists were agreed on the proposition that “He who does not work, neither shall he eat.” Both would come to the aid of those unable to work. But the idea that people who simply choose not to work should be supported by food or money taken from those who are working was rejected across the ideological spectrum.

Please don’t get me wrong, I’m a strong believer in charity and those who have excess must indeed ensure they use it to help enough other people amass their own excess too or as Zig Zaglar’s book “See You At The Top” says; you can only know you have reached the top by helping enough other people get to the top.  But among the many disturbing signs of our times in Zambia are our politicians and civil society leaders of high intelligence and principles who are advocating government programs that relieve people of the necessity of hard work to provide for their own livelihoods and personal responsibility.

Indeed, how we got to the present situation in our country is a long story, but the painful fact is that we are here right now.  Among the leading minds of our times, include the Jesuit Centre for Theological Reflection (JCTR), Civil Society for Poverty Reduction (CSPR) and Caritas Zambia who, without doubt, do great charity work and have praised government for taking on board some of their budget submissions in their 2017 budget and specifically putting in place austerity broad based social safeguards which include increased allocations to targeted social protection programs like the social cash transfer. Because of this, they complement the 2017 budget as progressive- saying it attempts to create a balance between stimulating economic growth as well as social and human development.”

This statement may imply there have been proposals from the civil society in the 2017 budget that suggest ways of subsidising the poor without necessarily the suffocating distortions of the government’s welfare state bureaucracy. But, it would appear and contrary to their original intentions- they are disappointed the budget did not outline the reasons that led to the loss of fiscal fitness, while at the same time they contest poverty in 2017 will continue because the budget has not addressed enough of their proposals to mitigate it. This is being said despite the three organizations acknowledgement of the increased social protection safeguards from 2.4% to 4.2% this year –specifically the Social Cash Transfer which has more than doubled to 28% or K522million to cover 500,000 households from 242,000 last year. What amazes however is that, isn’t it true the reason that led to the loss of fiscal fitness is that government simply tacked on some of the civil society proposals in the current budget to all the many other already existing government programs instead of replacing them?

Is not inevitable that the same thing will happen to the 2017 budget though themed “Restoring Fiscal Fitness for Sustained Inclusive Growth and Development?” that the three organizations have complimented? I would bet my wallet that there would be the same end result. But, just what specific problem is so dire as to cause some politicians and civil society leaders to propose that the government come to the rescue of every adult in Zambia- every year- by giving them money and food to live on without working?

“Yes Poverty?” today means whatever our government statisticians in their tax paid for air conditioned offices in Lusaka say it means—no more and no less. But isn’t it true that most Zambians living below the so called official poverty line today already have access to free land, FISP and livestock restocking programs if they chose to go back to their villages, free education for their kids, free health care, have a cell phone, radio, bicycle, and many other amenities-tarred roads, rural electrification, dip tanks, water reservoirs, that most of our ancestors before the missionaries and colonialists invaded these parts never dreamed to have (except land) for most of their existence?

Isn’t it true that most Zambians did not have a television set as recently as the mid-1990s? In fact what we may call poverty line Zambians today is equivalent if not far better than what many Black Africans had whom we classified middle class in the colonial era we grew up in the 1950s and early 60s.

It’s true, government statisticians today may find predominantly low income townships in urban areas such as Chazanga, Matero, Mandevu, Kanyama, Misisi, Chifubu; Kamitondo etc suffer far more from social degeneration, including high crime rates and violence than from material deprivation. But government welfare guarantees of not having these people to work, however the particular Jesuit Centre for Theological Reflection (JCTR), Civil Society for Poverty Reduction (CSPR) and Caritas Zambia policies are applied, are not a solution. Reliving able bodied Zambians of personal responsibility and hard work for their own lives, however it is done, is a major part of the problem—and it is the major reason the three civil society organizations have seen a surge in needs and suggested an increased allocation in the 2017 budget towards social protection hand-outs and most probably the reason government having already allowed these hand outs in the first place was forced to increase the number from 2.4% to 4.2% this year –and specifically this so called Social Cash Transfer RACKET which has more than doubled to 28% (±K522million) to cover 500,000 ‘imaginary’ households from 242,000 last year— with no end in sight.

Contrary to how our ancestors lived in the villages by way of personal responsib  ility and hard work – it can only mean that in today’s democratic Zambia, someone must have- perhaps by deceit- conjured up the idea of a specific Zambian welfare state vision that they made sufficiently pervasive to allow for a welfare state to be created. That vision, in which people are “entitled” to what others have produced, which is totally-alien- un African—un Zambian, is at the heart of the social degradation that can be traced back to the early 1970s socialist era.

Early teenage pregnancies, single parentages, drunkenness and drug abuse, venereal diseases, disorderly behaviour rates, GBV, and dependency on government were all very rare during the much disdained colonial past. With the coming of independence, all reversed and together with the population shot up as the welfare state, and the social vision behind the welfare state, took over in the early 1970s.

Indeed that vision featured non-judgmental rewards and non-judgmental leniency toward counterproductive behaviour, whether crime or irresponsible sex and whatever its consequences. But relieving people from their responsibilities, hard work and challenges of life is doing them no favour. Nor is it a favour to Zambian society at large.

Zambia has become more polarized under the free hand-outs -welfare state vision. Nor is it hard to see why. Indeed, if we are all “entitled” to government benefits, just by being present, why are some entitled to so little while others have so much?

Does it therefore surprise anyone that in an entitlement context, all sorts of “gaps” and “disparities” automatically become “inequities,” and reason for lashing out at those doing better, (Pull Him Down Syndrome) instead of improving yourself. Only in a society in which rewards are based on contributions is there any reasonable reply to the question as to why Africa’s richest man Aliko Dangote has so much and the rest of us so little.

Indeed every society has people unable to provide for their own survival-children, the severely handicapped, the very elderly, accident victims and many others but government providing for such people is different from a blanket guarantee for everybody in a country with so many opportunities and so much excess fresh water and arable agricultural land- that the able bodied also need not lift a finger to feed, clothe or shelter for themselves.

Zambians are now well aware that the financial cost of government providing such a guarantee, though huge, is not the worst of the problems. The history of what actually happened in times plenty when we were relieved from much of the challenges of survival by windfall gains from copper receipts is not encouraging. It is the reason we are still where we are today- still a miserable poor third world country compared to some hard working Asian economies whose GDPs were below or at par with our own in the early 1970s.

Government should not discourage personal hard work. There’s no substitute for hard work. The first law in engineering thermodynamics explains it clearly. The work you put in is what you get out. If only 1.0 million people work hard to put something in the economy, we should never expect to get anything out of it that will support 15 million of us. That is settled science. Indeed the Asians are no different from us— or as the saying goes: “hard work beats talent when talent does not work.”

Just a thought,


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