My government is faulty, can I please get a refund?

In the real world (which politicians don't live in) no one would willingly hand over their money for this. Gordhan must know he's giving our money to gangsters.

If there’s one overwhelming reaction following the tax increases announced during yesterday’s budget speech it’s this: we don’t mind paying more tax, but we’re worried about what it is we’re actually paying for.

It’s a fair concern. In socialist Scandinavian countries with a high tax rate, most citizens pay even more tax than we do, but there’s less resentment about it simply because schools and hospitals are of high quality, and other social services are pretty effective. Roads and tunnels get built more or less where and when they’re meant to be – and public servants who fly business class become objects of national derision and get hounded right out of their jobs.

I realise all countries have their problems and obviously it isn’t fair to compare a country like South Africa to Norway, with its small, homogeneous population – but, then again, that didn’t stop the former ANC Youth League and now the EFF from holding such a country up as a beacon of what nationalisation can achieve.

So the comparisons are inevitable.

Whether we nationalise, whether we tax the rich more, whether we grow the economy, or even whether we manage to achieve the holy political South African grail of “radically” transforming and restructuring the raggedy old bones of what’s left of the apartheid economic system … or not … none of that will matter very much if our government is not working in the interests of its citizens.

I know I’m stating the obvious, but it can never be said often enough.

We spend as much – or even more – per capita of our tax basket on education, and yet our matrics give us just about the worst maths and science results on earth. It’s not their fault. The education system is broken. A few years ago, I read that even Zimbabwe is still outperforming us on that front.

My late father could not afford private healthcare on his deathbed and that almost certainly cost him his life, despite the small handful of overworked state doctors who had done their best to patch him up following disastrous complications from their first botched operation.

That operation should have been nothing more than routine, but there are no guarantees any more. Carte Blanche even went so far a while back to warn its viewers that if they’re planning to have a car crash on the way to Durban from Jozi and get critically injured, don’t do it anywhere near (I believe they said) Ladysmith because the hospital you’re likely to be taken to there will finish you off faster than a water department official spending a kickback.

Everyone who earns a half-decent amount of money in this country now also has to worry about how they’ll be able to afford EVERYTHING that comes with the word “private” in front of it.

  • Private healthcare and medical aid (which is just getting more outrageously expensive every year)
  • Private security
  • Private transport
  • Private schools
  • Private legal assistance
  • Their own pension

Even private postal services now appear to be a must following the troubles of the Post Office.

Many have even started to wean themselves off parastatals such as Eskom by going off the grid. Flying SAA used to be the patriotic thing to do. One now starts to wonder if the patriotic thing would actually be to boycott Dudu Myeni’s get-rich-quick scheme in the sky.

Snubbing state services in favour of private ones costs money, and yet everyone still needs to pay their taxes. It’s a little bit like those of us with DStv who moan about also having to pay a TV licence to Hlaudi and co’s crumbling Auckland Park monolith even if we can’t remember the last time we watched 7de Laan or Generations.

In a country like ours, the predominant attitude from the overburdened taxpayer already morphed years ago into the idea that paying one’s taxes is almost a form of charitable donation.

“Ag well, look, I’m not getting much from it, but at least it’s helping the less fortunate.”

But that doesn’t even seem true any more. We’re now reading that even the social grants system is being abused and the poor and most vulnerable stand a chance of not getting their Sassa payments. Obviously that’s not going to happen, but it’s an example of the typical brazenness of a minister such as Bathabile Dlamini who’s wiping her behind on the constitution and the court that’s meant to uphold it.

Who suffers? Everyone, except her and her collective oink of trough-feeding benefactors.

Am I saying that the ANC hasn’t done anything good or achieved anything worth praising in 22 years? No. Of course not. But how many of those things couldn’t have been done far more efficiently? You’ll struggle to find an example of anything that was ever truly optimal – except tax collection and the disbursement of those taxes through National Treasury.

We should have many more state houses with sanitation, more graduates with scarce skills who don’t flee the country within 10 years, more land reform, more farmers, more sports stars, more artists, more tourism, more everything … except poverty, unemployment, lack of skills and overcrowded slums bickering over scraps, which leads to xenophobia. But those are the only kinds of things we’re being conditioned to expect more of from our current government.

And when it comes to brazenness, step aside Dlamini, because no one can hold a candle to our president, who is clearly planning to shove a certain Brian Molefe down our collective throats as finance minister, and in the process attempt to take one of the last vestiges of good governance, Treasury, with it. Of course, Jacob Zuma’s not sure he’ll get away with it, but he’s no doubt fancying his chances at getting his chess pieces into position until the moment to strike presents itself.

Someone like Pravin Gordhan must obviously feel quite conflicted: he’s doing his job as a finance minister as well as he knows how, trying to balance his budget, reduce the deficit, reassure ratings agencies and attempt to save money.

But surely he knows he’s giving money to gangsters every year? Our money.

If one thinks the situation is hopeless, one need only consider what a change a new government with only half an inclination to genuinely uplift and service the people would make over the next five, 10 or 15 years, if given a chance. It would take only a few years to see the kind of inspiring change many felt was possible after 1994. It’s possible a rejuvenated ANC may be able to do that, but I’m no longer quite so sure about that.

It’s change of government that has managed to revive and reinvigorate more dynamic countries like the USA, decade after decade. Even if Donald Trump just about drives his country to the verge of bankruptcy over the next seven and a half years, he’ll be gone – at the very latest – by 2024.

And then a new leader and his or her administration would be able to step in and repair the ship. That’s what Barack Obama’s government managed to do after the disastrous Dubya Bush years.

As a taxpayer, as a citizen, this bloated, near-obsolete government isn’t giving us value for money. It’s broken. It doesn’t live up to much of what it advertised it would do in election manifesto after election manifesto.

It’s faulty.

I’d like to send it back to the manufacturer and get a full refund.

If only the Consumer Protection Act could protect us against Zuma and his “radical revolutionaries” too.

Charles Cilliers, digital editor

Charles Cilliers, digital editor




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