Not enough conditions in place for a tax revolt
09 November 2015
Posted by: Author: Neels Blom
Author: Neels Blom (BDlive)
When you look up "tax revolt" on Wikipedia you find at least 200 historical instances, beginning with Egypt in the age of pyramids and continuing to this day among nations of every shade of ideology and at every level of intensity, creating the impression that, as rebellions go, it’ll be a humdrum affair if it ever happened in SA.
Well, maybe yes, maybe no, but considering that the warning to government of a possible tax revolt was levelled by the eminent constitution writer, tax law academic and television celebrity Judge Dennis Davis, perhaps it should be taken seriously.
Considering also that the history of tax revolts is resplendent with transcendence and transformation — the consequences of the Magna Carta and the decolonisation that followed the Boston Tea Party and the British brutality during Sierra Leone’s hut tax rebellion — it is apparent that underlying any radical political change is resentment over endemic venality and anger over nondelivery on the social compact. Of venality and nondelivery we have had our fill, but their incidence does not necessarily a revolution make.
Resistance to e-tolls, for instance, qualifies as a successful tax revolt, but our lying, cheating, corrupt and inept government is still in charge and, if anything, is even more deeply entrenched than when we first placed our trust in the African National Congress. What the e-toll boycotters achieved was a bit of a sucker punch.
The question is, will future stratigraphy reveal a thin but catalytic layer of charred IRP5s round about the early 21st century? Are we approaching an event horizon in which the weight of discontent is greater than the velocity of reason?
Probably not. First, if we had to ask the bourgeoisie if it had the stomach for a fresh round of station bombs and a repopulation of Robben Island, it would return a resounding no. Ours is a deeply divided society and the chasm is most acutely felt among the aspirant, taxpaying classes. It is among these classes that the noisome and grievous sore of state-sponsored racism and its concomitant pestilences of whiteness and blackness and faux privilege and the colonised mind-set are exercised; the rest of us stoically suffer this bitter epoch in familiar deprivation.
Second, and taxonomically speaking, a transforming resistance — a revolution — is characterised by an egalitarian demand for political participation, the rallying cry for which is "no taxation without representation". We are well represented in the halls where textured varieties of taxation are hatched, even though the greater part of the state’s revenue accrues from a narrow and shrinking tax base. For South African taxpayers to rouse a pitchfork-wielding peasant mob, a degree of cultural coherence, expressed in symbols such as La Marseillaise and the ideas of liberté, égalité and fraternité, is required.
That mother of all revolutions gave us liberalism, radicalism, nationalism, socialism, feminism, secularism and so on, all of which are now manifest in our striving for a better life for all. It also gave us modernity, which, in turn, spawned postmodernism’s unattractively egocentric, inauthentic and facile malcontents who have not the slightest interest in anything bar conspicuous consumption, personal appearance and social status. For a revolution to be authentic, its benefits must be universal. We must advance the human condition, otherwise it has failed.
In these terms, the revolution has yet to succeed. Chapter Two of the Constitution gives us rights, but the absence of a bill of responsibilities deprives us of participation in the determination of our lot. We may be hapless peasants no more, but we are children forever.
This article first appeared on bdlive.co.za.