Avatar photo

By Marizka Coetzer


Culture of nonpayment: South Africans ‘feel entitled’

Experts link widespread IOUs to government overspending, as power cuts hit big names like Sars over unpaid bills.

Experts say South Africans learned the culture of nonpayment, or IOU (I owe you), from the top tiers of government, with everyone living beyond their means, owing money and having to be threatened before they pay their bills.

This week, the South African Revenue Service (Sars) head office in Pretoria was one of many fat cats in the capital whose power was disconnected as part of the City of Tshwane’s Tshwane Ya Tima campaign to collect outstanding electricity debt.

Power restored after Sar settled debt

The city’s MMC for finance Jacqui Uys confirmed that the power to the Bronkhorst Street, Pretoria, head office was restored after the tax collectors settled an unpaid debt of R838 000.

The city also pounced on the Blyde Riverwalk Estate body corporate, the Public Investment Corporation, Castle Walk Shopping Centre, Shoprite in the central business district, Olympic Heights, the departments of water and sanitation, department of tourism and Minister of Tourism Patricia de Lille’s residence.

“A department of public works account, which is for the building that houses Sars situated at the corner of Lilian Ngoyi and Francis Baard [streets], was disconnected this morning due to nonpayment,” Uys said yesterday.

ALSO READ: City of Tshwane lays charges against homeowners for illegally reconnecting electricity

Case of not having the money

Economist Dawie Roodt said it wasn’t always a case of a culture of nonpayment, it was a case of not having the money.

Roodt referred to the City of Tshwane’s debt to the power utility, Eskom, of more than R8 billion and its overall financial state, saying: “The reality is the city doesn’t have money.

“But in general, we have a culture of nonpayment in South Africa. People just don’t pay any more.

“It’s not just the government or municipalities, it’s individuals.

“We have a culture of nonpayment and entitlement in South Africa,” he said.

ALSO READ: ‘Sars could attach your assets’ – expert warns owing taxpayers

This led to greater problems, to the point where entities such as Eskom didn’t have money, or where the municipality of the capital was financially burdened.

Culture of nonpayment starts from the top

“The culture of nonpayment starts from the top,” he said.

“It’s an example of government and our leadership and there are many examples of this.”

Economist Dr Roelof Botha said President Cyril Ramaphosa had promised during his State of the Nation Address in 2022 that private sector involvement in the economy was the way to get South Africa to sustain high levels of economic growth.

“If he is serious about this, he will have to start at the grassroots level where it affects people’s daily lives, where there are potholes in front of their homes and they don’t have water or the refuse is not collected,” he said.

ALSO READ: South Africans spend almost half of their income to pay off debt

Municipalities had to be restored with public-private partnerships.

“Cleaning up the municipalities is one of the most important priorities in this country.”

Lack of accountability

Economist Anja Smith said there was a fundamental lack of accountability among political and even societal leaders in South Africa.

“As long as this remains the case, we are likely to see these financial musical chairs games playing out in the government sector,” she said.

“While our legal system affords significant protection to creditors, in these examples it is hard for businesses and parastatals to collect debt due to it because of the protection of certain personal and human rights provided by our constitution,” she added.

ALSO READ: Tshwane goes for defaulters owing millions

Smith said as long as the South African government continued to live beyond its means through borrowing, rather than growing its means, it would be hard to enforce a culture of payment and set a good precedent for citizens to live within their means.