The national minimum wage of R20 an hour proposed by Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa’s National Minimum Wage Advisory Panel marks a turning point in an almost century-long debate. In some leftist quarters, the R20 is a sell-out amount; among economist colleagues and business pundits, it is a job-destroying fantasy. For the past 18 months, I have researched this issue as the co-ordinator of Wits University’s National Minimum Wage Research Initiative and contributed as an external party to the process. While workers need and deserve more, it is a notable step forward. A national minimum wage was first mooted in SA in 1935, appeared in the 1955 Freedom Charter, and was a demand at Cosatu’s launch in 1985. In the democratic transition, it fell off the table in favour of amendments to the existing sectoral wage system. For 22 years, certain stalwarts in the labour movement kept the idea alive but it was not until it appeared in the 2014 ANC election manifesto that it edged closer to rea...

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