Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Thinking in Rands

I first came over to the United Kingdom in 1998, just after I finished school. It was the first time I had left South Africa. It was one of the first times I wasn't in Durban or Johannesburg. The English used Pounds. I thought in Rands.

The South African Pound was replaced by the Rand in 1961, shortly after Sexit (1960 Referendum to become a Republic). At first you got R2 for each £1 until in 1967 the Pound devalued, and the Rand didn't follow suit. By the beginning of 1970, a pound only cost R1.72, but that stayed fairly stable until the Rubicon Speech of 1985 when the world expected an announcement of the abolition of Apartheid. President Botha said South Africa wouldn't change. History played out differently. Mandela was released in 1990, and Apartheid legally ended in 1994. 

Money isn't a thing, but it is a tool for thought. It simplifies communicationI was born in 1980. When I arrived in England in 1998, I had to adjust to the new numbers. It wasn't simple conversion. Most things cost more (relatively), and some things cost less (e.g. cars and books). I earned £100 a week as an assistant teacher (plus food and a bed). I saved very aggressively. In Rands, it was lots... but you can't spend Rands in England. When the UK minimum wage came into force in 1999, it was £3.60/hour. In the school holiday, I picked up extra work as a waiter and porter at that rate.

The scrimping and scraping meant that, despite minimum wage, when I came back to South Africa, I felt like a rich man. After having thought in Pounds for almost two years, I could now think in Rands. Everything felt ridiculously cheap. Eventually University realities kick in and you stop feeling like Lord Schmuck but the first little period was glorious.

The 'Law of One Price' is an economic concept that states that the same thing should sell for the same price in all locations... eventually. If markets function well, people can think about other things because the price will include all the relevant information. Markets function well when information flows well. Information loves freedom. The freedom of people, goods, services and capital.

I grew up in Apartheid South Africa. I only saw Umlazi for the first time when I was 17. Most of the people I was surrounded by growing up were White. The Black people were until my high school years, in positions of service or in places like Umlazi. There was no free flow of anything. I had grown up thinking about other things. It was not okay then, it is not okay now.

It is very tempting to think if we just focus on our local issues, which we have a better understanding of, everything else will take care of itself. Think in Pounds in England. Think in Rands when in South Africa. Think in English in Durban. Think in Zulu in Umlazi. That is how President Botha thought. Apartheid was built on the ideology of self-determination

There has to be a balance of awareness. Apartheid didn't end in 1994 in South Africa. The conversation of ending it started. Global Apartheid still exists. It exists beyond laws and borders. It exists in the prisons in which we place our ideas and relationships.

If freedom doesn't exist for everyone, freedom doesn't exist for anyone.

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