Tutu's race tax proposal: A response

FW de Klerk Foundation says Archbishop's proposal based on stereotyping


The FW de Klerk Foundation has taken note of the comments made by Archbishop Tutu at a book launch in Stellenbosch on 11 August 2011 (see Cape Argus report).

The Archbishop ascribed many of the problems that South Africa currently experiences - including vicious crime, traffic deaths and even littering in black communities - to apartheid - (and, in effect, to whites). He said that whites had all benefited from apartheid.

Their children went to "fancy schools" and they lived in "posh suburbs". He said that rich whites should pay a "wealth tax" to make reparations for the past.
South Africans have great respect and affection for "the Arch" and for his forthright defence of the principles and rights upon which our new society has been established.

One of those principles is non-racialism and the idea that we should no longer adopt laws that are aimed at one or another racial group. It would accordingly be unconstitutional to impose a wealth tax only on one of South Africa's racial groups. It would require the reintroduction of racial classification and of many of the other demeaning racial distinctions that were associated with apartheid.

It would also be unfair. Would whites who opposed apartheid be expected to pay the same as those who supported it? Would there be different tax scales for whites who supported the ANC, the DP and the old National Party? And what about the many blacks who held well-paid positions in homeland governments?

To be constitutional, a wealth tax would have to be applied to all South Africans regardless of their race. Happily - or unhappily - we already have such a mechanism: it is called income tax. Those fortunate people who earn more than R585 000 pay 40% their incomes to the state to fund, among other things, social, housing and education programmes.

This means that such people - many of whom are white - work for their fellow South Africans for more than half the year, if one considers the VAT and other taxes that they pay. They do so by and large without complaint - even though they receive very few education, health and security benefits for the taxes that they pay.

Of course, there is nothing to prevent anyone, black or white, from paying something extra to promote the well-being of less advantaged countrymen.  Interestingly enough, many wealthy South Africans do exactly that. According to a recent international survey they are among the most generous charitable donors in the world - not only in terms of money but also in terms of their time. Most likely, they are simply acting as responsible and caring citizens.  

This, too, lies at the crux of the Arch's other criticism that apartheid (i.e.whites) are responsible for the egregious levels of crime, road accidents and even littering that continue to afflict black communities. Such an approach detracts from the central responsibility that all citizens have for the conduct of their own lives.

It is also unfair to the many millions of black people who lead decent, responsible and law-abiding lives despite the past and despite the continuing poverty in which they live. More seriously, it distracts attention from the responsibility for poor education, housing and health services of those who are now in government.

We must break away from the racial stereotypes in terms of which too many of us continue to view our fellow South Africans. A substantial part of the white South African community is not and has never been ‘wealthy'. They do not live in ‘posh' homes or attend ‘fancy schools'.

It is also a fallacy to imagine that their standard of living is due solely or even primarily to the exploitation of black South Africans. There is no reason to suppose that white South Africans would not have attained by their own efforts approximately the same level of social and economic development as European emigrants who settled in Australia, Canada and New Zealand.

From the beginning of the 1980s most whites accepted the need to dismount the tiger of minority domination on which they found themselves. However, they had grave fears regarding the future.

According to a 1988 survey of the Afrikaner elite 92% thought that government efficiency would deteriorate under a black government; more than 80% thought that medical and educational services would decline; 73% thought crime would increase and 74% feared that there would be pervasive government corruption. There was also the fact that throughout the 70s and 80s virtually all the members of the ANC's National Executive Committee were also members of the South African Communist Party.

Despite these fears, they willingly reached out to their fellow South Africans of all races and worked with them to establish a new society based on non-racialism, human rights and the rule of law. This was, perhaps, the best way of making some reparation for 342 years of white domination.

A great deal still remains to be done to achieve the vision of dignity, equality and human rights that is articulated in our Constitution. This, however, is a challenge that all South Africans must accept on the basis of their equal responsibility for the future of their country.

However devastating apartheid might have been we cannot continue ad infinitum to ascribe everything that goes wrong in South Africa today to the past. Nor can we accept the dangerous idea of racial guilt - or the very unchristian notion that some South Africans are morally superior to others simply because of the race to which they belong.

Statement issued by the FW de Klerk Foundation, Cape Town, August 12 2011

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