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I Want Some Service For My Tax

What do we as a middle-class get for our taxes?

23/02/2017 12:21 SAST | Updated 23/02/2017 13:29 SAST

If you're working and middle-class, the Budget offers only one certainty, there will be more tax. And not only income tax. Transport costs will go up because of a hefty increase in the fuel levy. As we enter the season of provincial and local government budgets, local taxes go up too in the form of your rates and utilities bills and local levies.

The citizen is being squeezed hardest by a tough economy: increases in income tax go up more than increases in corporate tax and the tax on transactions or VAT. For 24 years, I've accepted high taxes as the price of solidarity and of my gift from freedom. A solidarity tax is where you know it is going to lift others and that you will get very little in return for your tax rand.

If the African National Congress had not fought a laudable struggle against apartheid (with others of course), I would have been languishing in Bosmont and being suffocated by the life apartheid's mad men had planned for people like me.

So, being able to become a journalist and a solid middle-class citizen is a fruit of freedom and I've been happy to pay my tax, especially since the South African Revenue Service made it easy to do so with automated systems and the knowledge that if I didn't use the carrot, they would come after me with a stick.

When Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan was SARS commissioner, he came up with brilliant campaigns to equate paying tax with good citizenship – paying your due, his campaigners said, was the right thing to do. The re-engineering of SARS worked brilliantly with revenues rising through the good times and the bad to cushion South Africa's social democracy from the buffeting waves of global and domestic misfortune.

When I heard Gordhan entreating us again not to complain about the increase in tax but "to do the right thing", I bristled rather than basked in the message.

The jury's out on whether SARS legendary ability to raise revenue is intact and that's one reason the tax rate is going up across most middle-class and elite bands of income. When I heard Gordhan yesterday afternoon entreating us again not to complain about the increase in tax but "to do the right thing", I bristled rather than basked in the message.

This time, my solidarity vein is not pumping as passionately as it used to and I find myself asking a question I have not in 24 years of paying tax: what do we as a middle-class get for our tax? And when will be get more?

I listened to Gordhan on the radio, reeling off the things we do get. "Great climate!" said the minister. I know the ANC's good, but you can't claim credit for the weather. "Great transport infrastructure," said the minister, just as I dodged mega potholes on the way to my mom's in Mayfair from Wits University. They are more like dongas after the rain. "It's easy to do business," said the minister who obviously does not run a business suffocated by red tape and with a regulatory burden that can make grown women weep. Cadres in government love making laws and regulations without considering their impacts: many have never run businesses or tried to work outside of the confines of cushy state employment.

For our tax bill, the average good middle-class citizen gets no healthcare, no education (for their families) and no security. Chances are you have to add the cost of medical aid (because our public hospitals are terrifying), of education and of ADT or another security company to keep you nominally safe. The police service is almost entirely without use and crime levels are among the highest in the world. If you are black, there's the addition of black tax to family who are not as fortunate. My mental audit saw me come up with just one true and free citizen value: the rather wonderful Johannesburg parks kept lovely by City Parks, a government agency.

It feels churlish to stage an argument like this because we know that as middle-class people our fortunes are by multiples of hundreds better than the majority of our fellow citizens who buckle under the weight of unemployment. Often in poorly serviced communities, they do not have the opt-out of buying better services like the middle-class does.

But, after 24 years, I do begin to want a little more for all the tax rands I pay when one considers that for roughly the first nine days of a 20 day working month, I work for our government.*

* You can make this calculation by your tax rate as a percentage of your working month. I've assumed a four-week month although some months are five weeks long. I've added local taxes like rates and other provincial and local taxes.