Monday, 18 April 2011
So who actually pays SA's taxes?
MOOI RIVER – Three-years ago after our beloved Great Dane died, we rescued a puppy from SPCA death row. Our “Sowetan Terrier” Frankie repays us nightly, keeping watch while the household sleeps. Nothing happens on the farm that Frankie doesn’t know about. Especially when it involves snakes.
Last week our fearless friend got into a scuffle with a Rinkhals, biting at the body of the hooded serpent as it tried to slither away. Fretting that the snake would tire of Frankie’s irritation and dispatch our scruffie to Dog Heaven, I shouted at her to get into the house and ran off to grab a suitable weapon.
By the time I got outside the snake had disappeared. Fortunately. Because once my pulse had steadied, there was a much-needed lesson from Nicholas, our go-to man for everything relating to the natural world. He explained that my fear of the Rinkhals is illogical. They are actually completely docile, always preferring flight to fight and so laid back, Nick says, that when confronted will often “play dead”, rolling on to their backs with their mouths open. He said we should be grateful a snake like this is around as it will also keep the toad population down.
Which proves, not for the first time, just how dangerous a little knowledge can be. All of us know that a snake with a hood (like a Rinkhals or Cobra) is poisonous and a strike from its fangs will hurt, even kill. But that’s where the understanding ends. For most, a snake, any snake, gets us reaching for a spade to slice off its head. It’s deeply ingrained into the human psyche. Even the baddies at Harry Potter’s school are, naturally, in Slytherin House whose mascot, of course, is a serpent.
Our collective fear of snakes, based as it is on the danger of having just a little knowledge, reminded me of recent conversations with fellow citizens after Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan’s Budget speech. During his hour in the spotlight, the straight-talking former Receiver told us that while 6m South Africans pay income tax, 15m receive social grants.
He was trying to make a different point. But it also gave fresh ammunition to those who refuse to believe our country is progressing. Here was more proof for the self-righteous who love to talk of the “White Man’s Burden” in the New South Africa. If it weren’t for “us” paying tax (read: Whites) then “they” (read: Blacks) would starve. “We” keep the country going. “They” pick up monthly cheques for doing nothing. Even the finance minister admits it!
These Budget stompie-picker-uppers are like us dog-owning-snake-spotters. A little bit of knowledge, taken selectively, is dangerous indeed.
Yes, there are only 6m South Africans who pay income tax. But it’s not for want of trying. Our income split means most South African workers earn less than the PAYE threshold of R5 000 a month. That doesn’t mean labourers, shop assistants or nurses don’t contribute to the national fiscus. They might avoid tax on their income, but certainly don’t escape it when spending.
Critically, everyone pays the same 14% value added tax (VAT). And Treasury’s total take from this umbrella levy is virtually the same as what it gets from 6m income taxpayers. VAT and income tax each broadly provide a third of the annual cash that flows into the national coffer. The other third, roughly, is from companies, customs duties and taxes on petrol, booze and tobacco.
As for the 15m who get social grants, what cynics rarely conveniently forget is that a third of them are children and almost 6m too old to work. Kids on welfare didn’t exactly win the lottery of life. Their situation is usually caused by HIV-deaths or being born to single, unemployed mothers. As for the elderly, who could possibly resent someone who often has to walk miles to collect R1 140 a month? Especially considering the aged poor are the real victims of apartheid, people robbed of a decent education by their skin colour.
So next time you get assailed with the “us” and “them” tax argument, hopefully you’ll politely point out the danger of having a little knowledge? On second thoughts, don’t bother too much about being polite.
Posted by The Rooster at 09:29