By Zubeida Jaffer
9 March 2009
DA party leader, Ms Helen Zille, made an extraordinary statement at UCT this week that has bruised hearts here in Cape Town.
She told students that people erroneously believe that the ANC paid them social grants. She went on to explain that it was not the ANC that paid these grants but taxpayers and a significant number of taxpayers were DA supporters. It therefore could be said that more than half the grants are paid by DA supporters.
Upon enquiry, she explained her statements to me as follows in summary: There are almost 12-million social grants, and approximately 5 million individual taxpayers registered with SARS. A very significant percentage of those 5,5 million registered taxpayers were DA supporters. If it could be said that the ANC pays people social grants, it would be fair to say that the DA pays even more of their grants.
She based her analysis, she said, on the following information drawn from the SARS annual report 2007/2008. According to this report, the total tax take in South Africa is R572,8 billion. The biggest single category of taxpayers are the personal/individual taxpayers registered with SARS (5,2 –million who account for 29,5 percent of the total tax take. The corporate tax base comprises 1,5 million corporate taxpayers who contribute 24,7 percent of the total tax take. Together they contribute 54,2 percent of the tax take – more than half.
This information she says underscores her point that the ANC does not pay people’s grants. The taxpayers do and many of the biggest category of taxpayers in South Africa do not support the ANC.
South African voters are not ignorant nor are grant recipients. Many are aware that the ANC-led government has consistently increased and extended its social grant system from one budget to another. They know they do not go to the ANC’s offices but to the government offices to collect their grants.
Ms Zille is right to point out that there more social grant recipients than taxpayers and that this constitutes a worrying dimension of our financial system. She however is wrong to imply that voters do not have the right to choose a particular party because that party’s supporters do not pay the most taxes.
The South African Constitution’s preamble speaks of “We, the people…. It does not refer to We, the taxpayers…
All citizens pay VAT. Those who are economically strong, individually or through companies pay income taxes. Those who are not strong enough to pay, often are the ones who add value to our society in different ways. The domestic worker, the gardener, the housewife contributes in equal measure to our well-being. Ms Zille should have taken the opportunity at UCT to explain to students that they are comfortable on campus because of the cleaners and other personnel who work hard for very little money. Students often are blissfully ignorant that their stay on campus is heavily subsidised by all taxpayers irrespective of which party they come from and that they owe the country their service. It would have been better for her to explain that her party is a party for all South Africans and not just the rich.
Where there indeed are grant recipients who believe they receive their grants from the ANC and not the government, it would be necessary to point that out to them. However it does not at all help to create a commitment to strengthening the sense of nation-building when students are guided to believe that those who earn more, necessarily make a bigger contribution to society.
Historically this does not hold true. The mines were worked by millions in Southern Africa who earned very little and yet have bequeathed to us a mining industry through their efforts. The buildings we see in many our towns were often crafted by those who were denied their rights as citizens and were paid next to nothing for their labour. The rich fertile lands along the Liesbeeck River were removed from the Khoi and the San in the Cape through the arbitrary introduction of deeds of sale distributed by the Queen of England. Land in Constantia and surrounds were removed from people who had lived there for generations. All these families have helped to make South Africa what it is today and they deserve to have the right to insist on the freedom to choose the party in which they have the most confidence. To suggest that the ANC is lying to the electorate that it has driven the social grant system is disingenuous to say the least.
What Ms Zille considered to be “casual comments” made at a meeting with students have more potential to bruise the hearts of many potential voters than she perhaps realises. In a single thoughtless moment she may have done the ANC a greater service than she could have intended.