How does a bank account help the unemployed?

I’ve just written a long piece for Vanderbeeken’s Putting People First blog, here’s a longish snippet to enthuse you to go read the rest of it:

Curious to more about what we were doing, he shared with us that he was a Wizzit account holder! Naturally I offered to buy him lunch if he’d share his story with us. He painted a picture of life under apartheid – he is in his fifth decade – and his struggles both within the system and later, as a member of the militant arm of the ANC. He seemed resigned to the fate that his past as a ‘freedom fighter’ was held against him in this new South Africa, seen as a ‘trouble maker’ he was more often unemployed than not. Both he and his wife had Wizzit accounts although neither had a working phone at the moment. Nor any money in the account. But he added, the beauty of the account was that it wouldn’t expire just because no transactions had been made – it seems regular banks in South Africa cancel accounts if there has been no activity for the preceding 6 months. And opening the account had been so easy – no paychecks, proof of residence or regular income was required, just his ID and his mobile phone number.

At that point, he looked up from his pizza (he only ate half of it and planned to take the rest home with him to share the treat with his youngest children still at home) and asked me a question that led to a conversation that totally changed my perspective of him. In an instant he went from an unemployed artist and initerant preacher to a visionary with dreams of changing the quality of life in his community and instilling civic pride amongst the residents again.

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