You've got nerve, Mr Gigaba
We understand, now, that every cent of every tax we pay is a sin tax
You can accuse Malusi Gigaba of a lot of things but cowardly he is not. When he presented Jacob Zuma’s final budget this week, it took serious chutzpah to speak – with a straight face and without blushing – about “sin tax”.
I’m not referring, of course, to the anachronistic puritanism of that phrase, which implies that drinking and smoking are actual sins. Rather, I’m talking about the astonishing nerve of Minister Gigaba to use that moralistic little phrase given the decade we’ve just been through.
To stand up and casually imply that cigarettes and booze are sins, when your government has spent the last 10 years systematically stealing from the poor, well, that’s just special.
On Wednesday, the ANC chief whip fired off a tweet that managed to kowtow before the Big Man while simultaneously telling the serfs to fuck off, insisting that “South Africans must allow President Cyril Ramaphosa to do his job without all of us pretending we are presidents or telling him what to do. It is only the President who can appoint and disappoint (sic) ministers and noone (sic) else.”I hope that certain ministers are about to be very “disappointed”, but if this is the tone of the new administration then it seems unlikely we’ll ever get back to a situation where citizens are invited to give helpful suggests to Finance ministers, a la “Tips for Trevor” or “Tips for Pravin”.
Still, Jackson Mthembu’s anti-democratic tantrum aside, I remain cautiously optimistic. And so, to our next Finance minister I would like to say the following:
Firstly, Minister, you need to understand that “sin tax” in modern South Africa no longer refers to cigarettes and alcohol. We’re well past that. We understand, now, that every cent of every tax we pay is a sin tax. All of it. We know that you’re shaking us down to refill coffers emptied by the immense sins of state capture and wholesale looting.
Secondly, because of the last 10 years, this can no longer be a simple extraction of our money. Now, it needs to be a transaction.
You want to seize more money from the poor? Fine. But then also tell us how much you’ve seized from apartheid oligarchs and arms deal middlemen and Gupta stooges. You want to raise VAT, or the price of energy? OK. Then put people in jail. Give us something for our taxes, even if that something is only grim satisfaction.
But whatever you do, do not stand there lecturing us about fiscal challenges when the people who robbed us blind go unchallenged. Do not talk to us about a shortfall of billions when those parasites keep their billions safely offshore.
I want to contribute my fair share of tax to an honest state. But if you want me to pay for my sins, you’d better make damn sure the looters are paying for theirs.