Nothing is free

July 19 2013

I read this piece by Jay Naidoo at the Daily Maverick earlier, and there’s a quote in it from Nazma Akter, the general secretary of the Sommilito Garments.

Sramik Federation, turned to me and said, “We need people in the West to understand that there is nothing free. When you buy cheap clothing or buy one and get one free, realise that nothing is free. Someone has to pay. Here it is the workers with their lives. Our lives are cheap. While we know we have to fight for union rights here, our struggle is interconnected and global.”

It’s been going round in my head ever since, so I had to put it here to exorcise it somewhat. It should be printed above the doorway of every Truworths, Topshop and Macy’s in the world.

It’s soon going to be a year since I moved to South Africa, and I find I’m really having to fight the temptation to normalise so many of the things that are wrong here. Most of all it’s the constant refrain that somehow, economics justifies paying people less-than-subsistence wages and only by allowing economics to run free will they be saved.

Meanwhile, the relatives of the Marikana were just told that they have to pay their own legal expenses to be represented at the inquiry. Despite the fact that the only reason they’re there in the first place is because the family breadwinners were shot down by the police. And yet no-one seems outraged by this.

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