Western Cape Premier Helen Zille’s threat of organising a national tax boycott over the impunity of state corruption has drawn predictable ire, as well as some eye-rolling.
Her ANC opponents were quick to call it treason. Her bemused Democratic Alliance (DA) critics sighed, sensitive to any further gaffes that hamper an official opposition that is struggling to hit its election-year stride, largely because it keeps shooting itself in the foot.
Government fears of taxpayer resistance are engrained. The challenge has been how to achieve the balance of maximum financial extraction with minimal taxpayer resistance.
It involves the state emphasising its legitimate right to a share of your earnings, while having behind its back an array of legal clubs to ensure swift compliance by the recalcitrant.
It’s no accident that revenue services worldwide routinely have powers to snoop, to interrogate and to seize.
When it comes to dealing with taxpayer resistance and evasion, presumption of innocence and burden of proof concepts quickly go out the window.
Nevertheless, there is at least one recent example in SA of a successful tax revolt – the boycott by motorists of the Gauteng e-tolls, which has brought the toll consortium to its financial knees. It’s a boycott that’s been enthusiastically endorsed by the DA, as well as by the ANC provincial leadership.
It is simple expediency that the same DA that supports the e-toll boycott is now now sanctimoniously denouncing Zille. The DA hopes to benefit electorally, especially in Gauteng, from the government’s enforcement of these hugely unpopular taxes on motoring.
Similarly expedient is the ANC, which is tolerant of its tripartite alliance and provincial party structures denouncing policies that all these entities have agreed to at a national level.
The mechanics of disagreement in a democracy are simple. You have the vote, exercise it. Thereafter, you are morally bound to live with the policies and laws enacted by the majority.
But in SA everything is complicated by race. A country with a population of 57 million people, 16 million of whom are on social assistance, is balanced on a tiny taxpayer base. A mere 4.9 million individuals are estimated to contribute 97% of all personal tax.
It is no coincidence that the South African Revenue Service, uniquely of all the government agencies, has never publicly analysed this revenue stream by race. Since this is a government obsessed with the “correct” racial demographics, we can assume this is because minorities contribute disproportionately to personal tax revenue.
Toss in the justified perception that the ANC is tolerant of freeloading by its supporters. For example, it is extremely reluctant to countenance legal action against (black) township dwellers who refuse to pay for services, whereas it would back rapid retaliation against suburban (minority) ratepayers who tried the same thing.
Zille’s proposals may be politically unwise and practically unworkable but they are well-timed. It’s a reminder that there is a large and growing gatvol factor with which the ANC will have to contend if it doesn’t change its ways.