I am moved to write in response to the suggestion by the Arch-Bishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, that it would be appropriate now to impose a special tax on white persons in our country.
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It was apparently an off-the-cuff remark, which, afterwards, he elaborated upon to the press. I will return to the idea of a "white wealth tax" later, because an analysis of his other remarks I think leads us to a better understanding of his thinking:
He is reported to have said at an earlier point: “You all benefited from apartheid. Your children went to fancy schools, you lived in posh suburbs.” Now, if one thinks about this comment for a moment, one or two important issues arise.
Firstly, the statement itself is fundamentally wrong. Not all whites benefited from apartheid. Most white families suffered enforced conscription and further years of national conscripted service.
Many "whites" died quite unwillingly in defense of apartheid, and many "white" families suffered horribly, either because of their losses at the hands of a government they did not support or for daring to doubt what they were told.
In addition, the history of the struggle against apartheid is peppered with "white" names who were an honoured part of that struggle.
Far from "posh suburbs", it would be more accurate to remember that ordinary whites in South African homes were fed a propagandist diet designed to make them hate and fear "black" South Africans who would be soon invading their homes, they were told, to rape, murder and pillage their families and belongings.
The Apartheid government did this, and more, and South Africans believed it. If you did not, you were the enemy. It was a fearful, horrific time, as I recall, and the Bishop needs to carefully consider his naivety.
Whites-only schools were not "fancy". They had grenade-screens, high fences, and the teaching was based on fear and loathing. I, as a white boy, sometimes went to boarding school under police escort in an armed convoy.
I am sure this delighted my parents- would the bishop agree? I agree with Tutu when he says: “Apartheid damaged us all; not a single one of us has escaped.” this must be true. What need then, at this point, to even suggest that something is to be gained from re-introducing any system based on race?
The very thought of it should cause a cold shudder through our bones. I think, however, that I understand what the Bishop is asking for, and if one remembers his Christian perspective it becomes apparent : He asks that ALL people should willingly contribute, somehow, and VOLUNTEER themselves( to pay this tax.)
He refers to this as "an extraordinary symbol of their readiness."(readiness to pay back somehow for apartheid) It’s naive thinking, sentimental, and thank god thus far the idea does not seem to have a place on any serious agenda.
Tutu talks of people volunteering themselves in the spirit of Ubuntu, and in real terms, in the re-building of South Africa.
He wonders why he does not see more of it? here is his answer: He will be laughed at by our senior ANC officials, behind closed doors, when he asks THEM to drive old cars, give up their blue-light escorts, climb down from their towering positions of power and actually do some work.
And the "whites" in South Africa know it. Just like every other South African, we are shamed by the bickering over open toilets, failed and failing municipalities and provinces, the massive increases in public expenditure with precious little to show for it, the horrific crime and groaning poverty that we see going largely unrelieved.
We are all horrified that we are already thrice-taxed and more, and even the simpletons amongst us can calculate the billions that are flowing into the sieve that passes for government coffers.
We pay Income-tax, Value-added-Tax ,Toll Road Tax, Tax on our cars, Taxes on our businesses, We pay Local levies at municipalities for services we (all) hardly receive, we pay tax when we bank our money, tax when we travel.
We are taxed on medicine, Taxed in hospitals, Taxed on our homes and Taxed when we die. The Bishop when he suggests an additional tax has either taken leave of his senses, or completely fails to understand Reality in South Africa.
Imagine in all seriousness asking any people, regardless of their colour, to pay an additional tax in these circumstances. The Bishop dreams of an additional voluntary taxation : he must be mad.
Assuming that a "white wealth tax" was to somehow be introduced: Does the Bishop imagine that "white" folk would make their way down to the (broken) municipal office in their towns, in order to (voluntarily) be classified as white?(come to think of it- this will be unnecessary: our ID numbers already do this, something our ANC-lead democracy has overlooked).
Perhaps he imagines that a dompass for whites will be issued, to be stamped by black authority when and if this tax is paid, and that perhaps we whites could be stopped by a policeman in the street who would ask a white man and his family to produce the Pass so that he can see that this tax was paid?
Is THAT what he wants? is that what anyone wants? And what would we call it, this special white tax, in the budget books? One could go on and on…into a nightmare.
Just a last thought or two: How would the Bishop suggest that his "voluntary white wealth tax" be spent? One of the first problems would possibly be the need to determine "Blacks Only" upliftment programmes into which this money would be poured? (leading to blacks-only charities, blacks-only underprivileged schools, and so-on).
Its obvious that no all-inclusive effort could benefit from a "white wealth tax" designed as a payback for apartheid…or am I missing something? (Perhaps better blankets could be given only to the black children in the orphanage ?).
Oh, and one final thing – Perhaps the best document ever drafted in this country since the end of apartheid is our all-inclusive equality-based democratic Constitution, the envy of democratic countries around the planet and the keystone of our future.
I believe the Bishop was a part, directly or otherwise, of its creation. Does he intend to burn it?
The Bishop has in my humble opinion done much here to undo the good work undertaken, often for no reward, by thousands and thousands of South Africans, everywhere. If he has not caused damage, he has certainly dis-respected them.