Travelling in the direction of inequality

Every now and again the lecture circuit takes me to North West. The drive is a sobering reflection of the Gini coefficient, the measurement of the disparity between rich and poor.

A coefficient of 0 reflects perfect equality and 100 reflects perfect inequality. South Africa scores 63 against a world average of 41.

Start off enjoying the benefit of driving toll-free on new highways from Pretoria. Gauteng, the richest province, doesn’t want to pay for them. It believes the cost should be shared nationally in the fuel levy. Pass Marikana and reflect on a disaster that, according to the Treasury, has cost all South Africans R12bn in lost taxes — yet we stumble over the legal fees of those most hurt and delay the outcome of the commission.

The toll for Rustenburg to Zeerust is R75. Pay attention or you will crash in the roadworks or get caught in one of the numerous speed traps strategically placed within roadworks to supplement local authority revenues. Forget road rage — what about taxpayer rage?

Then get stopped by South African customs inspectors searching for contraband smokes from Botswana and Zimbabwe. Apparently the new international sport is to cross into Botswana with a boot full of grog (heavily taxed in Botswana), sell it on the black market, then return to South Africa with a boot full of contraband online casino cigarettes.

There is little sign of highway vendors casino online selling arts and crafts. Have they been run off by the threat of business licence implementation by the Department of Trade and Industry or South African Revenue Service inspectors, or just overwhelmed by cheap imports from China and the new businesses of foreign nationals? The only new SMEs on show are refrigerated panel vans and trailers proudly providing the speedy delivery of corpses back to their birthplace north of the Limpopo.

On a positive note, the plastic bag tax is working. The veld is looking much better.

One hundred years ago, Herman Charles Bosman wrote of the hardship that existed in the Great Marico. Yes, it has changed, but life must still be very tough. And few of us still go there, not even to Sun City.

Originally published in the Sunday Times: Money & Careers Tax Talk column.

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