11 Jul 2012

On sleeping South Africans and the Chinese invasion

In China the minimum wage varies from region to region and even city to city, but in a city like Shangai a domestic worker’s minimum wage is around 10yuan per hour.  Roughly $1.50 per hour.

In South Africa the minimum wage varies from industry to industry, but a domestic worker gets paid ZAR 9.00/hour. Roughly $1.09/hour.

Difference not so big.  Neither pays tax.

The Chinese worker probably receives free housing (in a brick-and-mortar structure)
The South African worker probably receives free housing too – in a shack built with pieces of zinc and cardboard.
The Chinese worker receives free medical care.
The South African worker has to pay a small fee for “free” medical care.
China holds roughly 1.3 billion people.
South Africa holds about 50 million people.

In 1978 the Chinese government took a decision to reform the Chinese economy.  Foreign trade and investment, state control over certain prices and formation of private businesses relaxed.  A major drive to educate the workforce was launched.

The Chinese economy has grown spectacularly.  Far faster than the South African economy.  There are figures available all over the place, but I’ll not refer to them now.  We are not economists.

Let’s go back in time and look at Japan after that “nasty little thing” that happened to them.  Their economy was in ruins. In 1950, the per capita income of Japan was equal to that of Ethiopia and Somalia and 40 percent less than India. People were dying of starvation.
Then Japan became one of the strongest economies in the world.
Why? What happened? 
The Japanese government took a decision to reform the Japanese economy.
See what I did there?

I don’t know how old you are, but I remember as a child playing with toys of not the greatest quality, and when it fell apart, my father would say “What do you expect, it’s made in Japan”.
The other day, my little one’s toy fell apart.  And you know what, I found myself saying “What do you expect, it’s made in China.”
No correlation there whatsoever.
Japan became one of the biggest exporters of cheap goods in the 60’s and 70’s.  China is currently the third biggest exporter of cheap goods.
No correlation there whatsoever.

The Chinese and Japanese cultures are hugely different in many ways.  But in some ways they are remarkably similar.  Some very important ways:
Who are the politest people? The Japanese and Chinese.
Who are the most patriotic people? The Japanese and Chinese.
Who are the most precise, committed people? The Japanese and Chinese (well, Germans too, but they’re not in this story at the moment)
Who are the proudest people, who are the people who take honour in a good name, who are the people who value responsibility above all? Why, the Japanese and Chinese, of course.

Why do we, as South Africans not have the same pride and honour?  Could it be that even with all that’s happened in this country’s history we still had things come to us quite easily?  Our country is full of natural resources, natural beauty, space, fertile lands.  We really shouldn’t want for anything from other countries.  Yet we import.

There’s no way anyone can tell me the average South African is less intelligent than that of the average Chinese.  Lazier, yes, but not less intelligent.  We want things handed to us.  We do not want to work for what we get.  We’d rather buy the cheap, low quality import than the well-made, more expensive locally made.  We want to make that quick buck.  We don’t want to save for later, we want to spend what we have now, because there’ll always be more later.

I was washing my mug at the kitchenette sink at work this morning, and glancing over to the upturned mugs and bowls on the draining board, I saw the words “MADE IN CHINA” on every single item of crockery.  I turned over my own mug.  Yes, there were the words: ”MADE IN CHINA”.  
I didn’t even realise that the pretty mugs I bought at my local Checkers were Chinese imports.  Then I wondered where I could buy a South African made mug.  And you know what?  I couldn’t think of one single place.  I would actually have to drive from shop to shop to find a mug that claims it was made in South Africa.  A sad state of affairs.  
I don’t see why I have to go from shop to shop to find something that was made in my own country.  I know there are people who make mugs in South Africa, because my daughter has a mug at home that was made in South Africa which she bought at the Christian book-shop.  It’s lilac with an inspirational message on.  Which is nice.  But I don’t want to serve my guests coffee in mugs with slogans on, no matter how inspirational.
Why do big chain stores like Checkers carry only imported items like these?  Why do they not offer me a choice between an imported product and a locally manufactured one?  Because they know the locally made one will be more expensive and therefore less likely to be sold?  Probably.  Because South Africans produce less per capita than the Chinese do.  It’s a fact.  Look it up.
Per capita means per person – the fact that there are more of them than of us does not come into it.  But it does. 

Here’s a Chinese mug factory.
Here’s a South African mug factory.
The Chinese mug factory can operate around the clock, because there are more people, and because the people are willing to work.
The South African factory does not operate around the clock, because there are less people and nobody wants to make mugs at night – it’s not like we need jobs or anything.
Here is one Chinese labourer in the mug factory.
Here is one South African labourer in the mug factory.
The Chinese labourer makes three mugs per hour.  Because if he doesn’t, he’ll lose his job.
The South African labourer makes one mug per hour.  Because he’s a union member and nobody can tell him to work harder or better unless they want a full-scale strike.
The Chinese labourer works eight solid hours with only one half-hour lunch break during his entire shift.  He does not complain.  He has a job.  He takes pride in doing his job to the best of his ability.
The South African labourer works eight hours.  He takes fifteen minutes for tea in the morning.  He takes an hour or maybe two for lunch, depending on how he feels.  He takes fifteen minutes or maybe an hour for tea in the afternoon, depending on how he feels or how much he’s eaten over lunch which would make him sleepy.  He complains.  He deserves better working conditions.  He takes no pride in the job he’s doing.  He doesn’t really want to do it, because he deserves better and somebody ought to hand him a promotion, or even better yet, money for doing nothing.
The Chinese labourer goes home, having made 22 mugs.  One of which is discarded as there is a flaw.  The next labourer takes his place. Total mugs made: 21.  Total cost to make one mug: around ZAR 12.00
The South African labourer goes home, having made 5 mugs, three of which must be discarded because he didn’t really feel like doing any work after lunch.  There is nobody to take over his shift.  Total mugs made: 2.  Total cost to make one mug: around ZAR 36.00
Surprised that there are more, cheaper Chinese products than South African ones?  I’m not.
Yes, this is a rather facile scenario.  But the scary thing is that this is exactly what’s happening.

The fact is simple: if the SA labourer takes more pride in his work, he will produce more mugs.  The more mugs he produces, the cheaper they will be.  The cheaper they are the more South Africans will buy it.  The more South Africans buy it, the more the factory can grow and appoint more people.  The more people the factory can appoint, the fewer jobless people.  The fewer jobless people the more prideful our nation will become.  The fewer jobless people, the fewer poor, hungry people.  The fewer jobless people the more our economy will grow.  The essential point is this: work harder, take pride because your entire country’s economy rests on YOUR shoulders.  (It’s called taking ownership)

I remarked on Twitter the other day that I noticed a “Buy Local” hashtag from almost every country in the world, except China.  Rather silly, yes.  But it doesn’t make it any less true.  How many imported mugs do you think are available in Chinese shops?  Yes, they import a lot of raw materials, we all know that.  But how many finished manufactured items do they really import?

Look, if there’s anyone who complains about their job and thinks they deserve better, it’s me.  I confess.  Thing is – when I’m at work, no matter how much I loathe it, I still do it to the best of my ability.  It’s called work-ethic.  And frankly, I see less and less of it in the people around me.  Especially, yes, especially from those who have degrees.  The sense of entitlement is scary.

South African, wake up.
Work harder.
Take pride.
Have honour.
And mostly – Buy Local…….

Sources of information:

and some others which I'm unable to disclose