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A feast is made for laughter, wine makes life merry,

 

and money is the answer for everything.

 

(The Holy Bible, New International Version, Ecclesiastes 10:19)

For this particular article, I want to theosophise a bit.

But before I go there – I know that our industry is in a depression. With the economic, political and social challenges we endure, it is easy to slide into the abyss of frustration, suspicion and compromise – to lose passion, to simply work for the pay cheque. Some are even at the point of doubting their choice of career in civil engineering.

Remember this – because you exist, our people have dignity in water and sanitation, roads upon which we drive cars, buses and taxis so that, together with rail services, we are able to go to work to earn a living, to feed our families, to cook with the electricity you helped provide, and to send our children to the schools you helped build. Diversify if you must, but don’t give up on your divine purpose, which is to serve people through the custodianship of infrastructure. South Africa is dependent on civil engineers and civil engineering, wherever we are employed. I am aware that our government does not appreciate this magnificent profession sufficiently – but that’s alright. Sometimes we just have to buy our own cake and light our own candles.

Back to my intent – what we believe about life after death informs how we behave while we are breathing air. If one believes in a geographical and spiritual destination, for example, then a believer would manifest the kind of behaviour that enables entry there.

The Hindu world view related to karma and reincarnation fascinates me from the economic, environmental and sustainability perspectives. It is more hospitable, integrated and expedient than, say, the Christian world view where you live down here only once before you move on – parcelled for dispute resolution, dispatched for final mediation and arbitration. In comparison, in the Hindu version one gets a multiplicity of chances – until you make the grade, to then be liberated into the grandiose of moksha.

In this world view that posits continuity of the soul and constant return, the manifested behaviour is attuned to planning for regular re-entry, saving for the future, concern for inheritance and protecting natural capital for enjoyment upon return. This is contrary to the other world view where there is an abrupt finality that makes planning, saving and protecting an almost pointless exercise – for what, and for whom, if life hereafter will continue in another realm?

Consider the minimum wage issue. At around R3 000, is it sufficient to shield against increases in living costs in South Africa? Is there merit in increasing the minimum wage to, say, R6 000 per month which, at a glance, seems about reasonable?

Firstly, is there merit in the proposition that if we earned more, we would afford better and spend better? An international study of lottery winners shows that most winners go bankrupt within five years of winning. One riches-to-rags Brit, who squandered his fortune in less than 12 months, said, “I find it easier to live off a £42 (R900) dole than a million.” It seems then that when money comes gushing through the door, parsimony is deluged out the window. This extreme evidence makes the point that more money is not the answer.

Secondly, how many middle-class families, where minimum wage earners find employment, are able to sustain R6 000 per month for their current helpers, gardeners and cleaners? It is reasonable to assume then that an increase in unemployment will follow an increase in the minimum wage, not to mention creating a higher economic barrier of entry for the almost 30% zero-income bracket, for whom the barrier is already prohibitive.

What are the possible interventions on the minimum wage conundrum then?

Most minimum wage earners spend a large portion of their income and time on travel to and from work, basic and higher education costs for their children, healthcare and social spend. Government should rather invest heavily in efficient public transport, quality education (#FeesMustFall) and reliable healthcare so that the low-income bracket can minimise spending in these areas.

While government and engineers brave on with these service delivery challenges to enable minimum wage income earners to stretch their rand, we should also teach financial sustainability. We should be educating our people to become money savvy – all the way from President Zuma’s office to the common household. Graduate engineering professionals are no different – we, too, need to refine our understanding of value for money, planning and saving for the future, and being thrifty.

Pravin Gordhan has traversed the globe in recent weeks discouraging downgrading of our borrowing status, promising that “… South Africa will be doing things differently.” I wonder, if the engineering professionals got together and wrote to Minister Gordhan to lend support, what would our contribution be? Short of becoming Hindus, one thing I know for certain, our mind-sets of living like there is no tomorrow needs urgent and repentant salvation.

 

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