Kalaki Korner: Subsidizing the Rich

kalaki subsidyBy Roy Clark

‘Hullo Thoko!’ I exclaimed, as she came sailing round the corner of the veranda. ‘You’re soon back from school! What have you been learning about at school today?’

          ‘Subsidies,’ she replied.
          ‘Ooh, very modern,’ I chortled. ‘So explain it to me, what is a subsidy?’
          ‘I thought I knew until the teacher tried to explain it,’ she sighed. ‘Now I don’t know the difference between subsidy, subsidize, subside and subsidiary. Please, Grandpa, what exactly is a subsidy?’
          ‘Maybe I’ll tell you a little story about a subsidy, then you’ll get the idea.’
          ‘Good idea,’ she agreed. ‘You can start right now.’
          ‘Once upon a time,’ I began, ‘a long time ago, there were seven beautiful sisters, who all lived together with their father, a man called Zed, on a large farm.’
          ‘And were they rich?’
          ‘They were doing quite well. The farm ran in the traditional way, with the girls doing all the work, milking the cows, looking after the chickens and pigs, harvesting the mango orchard, planting the maize, and so on. And the father had hired a governess to give lessons to his young daughters.’
          ‘But where was the mother?’
‘That was the sad thing,’ I replied, ‘she had died some years earlier.’
‘And did their father also help on the farm?’
          ‘As I said,’ I explained, ‘it was a traditional set up. The father gave the orders, sold off the excess produce and drank a lot of beer with his friends. But one day, he came back from town with a new wife, and her three ugly daughters. Now you will have more help on the farm, Zed told his daughters, Meet your new mother and sisters! They have come here to help you run the farm!
          ‘And did they help?’ wondered Thoko.
          ‘Unfortunately not,’ I admitted. ‘What happened was that Zed’s seven daughters had the additional work of looking after the new wife Michelle, and her three ugly daughters, Kapimbe, Kambilimbili and Kalamity. They had to wash their clothes, cook their food and answer to their beck and call, while the newcomers would sit around like ladies, too grand to lift a finger to help themselves.’
          ‘They had joined the ruling class!’ suggested Thoko.
          ‘Exactly,’ I agreed.
          ‘So the seven beautiful sisters were now subsidizing the newcomers?’
          ‘You’ve got it! These people were paying no price, doing no work, but getting all the benefits. Their existence was completely subsidized by Zed’s daughters.’
          ‘So what happened next? Did they rebel? Demonstrate? Riot?’
          ‘Things got worse,’ I said grimly. ‘One day Michelle announced that she had employed a farm manager and four assistant managers to supervise the work of Zed’s seven daughters.’
          ‘Why did she do that?’
          ‘They were all her relatives and they needed employment.’
          ‘So now Zed’s daughters had to work harder to subsidize the idle existence of Zed, their stepmother, the three ugly sisters and the five farm managers?’
          ‘And then things got worse,’ I said sadly. ‘A couple of months later Michelle announced that the farm could not afford to subsidise the education of Zed’s daughters, nor to subsidize their occasional trips to town because transport was too expensive.’
          ‘So Michelle thought that she has been subsidizing the unnecessary expense of Zed’s daughters?’
          ‘Oh yes,’ I said. ‘She thought she was now the owner of the farm, and that Zed’s daughters should be paying for their own education and transport.’
          ‘But Michelle wasn’t paying them anything,’ said Thoko sadly.
          ‘No,’ I said. ‘That was because the farm was doing so poorly. You must try to understand the complex economics of poverty.’
          ‘But where was their father in all this?’ Thoko wondered. ‘Didn’t he say anything?’
          ‘Zed never came out of his room. Any announcements were made on his behalf by his private secretary, Georgie Fellow.’
          ‘And how did this Georgie Fellow explain things?’
          ‘He told Zed’s daughters that they must sacrifice today for the benefits of tomorrow. He said that the money saved from education and transport could now be invested in beautiful ball gowns for the three ugly sisters so that they could then attend balls at the Palace. In this way they would marry the King’s sons, and the resulting lobola would make the family of Zed rich for the rest of their lives.’
          ‘And did Zed’s beautiful daughters believe this?’
          ‘One of Zed’s daughters, a girl called Muhabi, was clever as well as beautiful, and suspected that Michelle was really a witch. So she employed a witchfinder, and the very next night Michelle was found naked on the roof of the Palace, where she had fallen while trying to bewitch the princes into marrying her ugly daughters.’
          ‘So how did it all end? Did Muhabi marry Prince Charming and become a Princess?’
          ‘Of course,’ I admitted. ‘All of these stories have to end like that. And the witch and her ugly sisters had to flee for their lives to a foreign land, far far away.’
          ‘And did Princess Muhabi end the system of subsidies?’
          ‘No, but she just changed the vocabulary a bit. When ordinary people were made to pay money to the ruling class so that they could live in luxury and do nothing, this money was no longer called a subsidy but a tax.’
          ‘So what is subsidy?’
          ‘A subsidy is when the ruling class gives back to the workers a bit of the workers’ own tax money. During very hard times the Princess would give back a little money to the poor to save them from starving to death.’
          ‘And was she considered generous for doing that?’
          ‘Of course,’ I laughed. ‘Mean leaders just take it all, and never give anything back.’