by Fikile-Ntsikelelo Moya

Benjamin Franklin famously remarked that there are two things certain in life, death and taxes. This week budget speech might require that the quote be amended to say “death by taxes”.

Minister of Finance Malusi Gigaba’s supposed “tough, but hopeful” budget is anything but hopeful, especially for the poor. It is certainly tough, even for the already highly indebted middle classes.

In his comments on the budget speech in Spotlight.Africa, Russell Pollitt SJ wrote, “Gigaba said that poor households would be compensated through above-average increases in social grants. He also said that the current zero rating on basic food items such as maize meal, brown bread, dried beans and rice will remain and will help limit the impact on the poorest households. This, however, does not seem to be much of a reprieve for the poor. There is no tax on very limited number of items and the poor do not live on these few items alone.”

Even if they did, the increase in the fuel levy will take with one hand what Gigaba pretends to give with the other.

In a media statement, Mervyn Abrahams of the Pietermaritzburg Agency for Community Social Action (PACSA) noted: “The increase in VAT takes the total VAT on the February PACSA Food Basket to R221.59 per month vs. a staggered R30 on the Child Support Grant and a staggered R100 on the Old Age Grant.”

Abrahams goes on to say, “The incremental increase in social grants has not compensated households living on low incomes for VAT nor the 52 cents per litre increase in the levies on fuel which will reverberate throughout the economy and make all goods and services, especially food more expensive and increasingly unaffordable”.

“On the positive side, the Minister showed that basic education remained a priority. Besides announcing money to replace unsafe schools, providing water to 325 schools and sanitation to 286 schools, he also announced that meals would be provided at 19,800 schools for 9 million learners through the National School Nutrition Grant, which has been allocated R21.7 billion”.

In tough economic times as we have, with unemployment, there was scant mention of how the country plans to deal with the high number of joblessness.

Instead, the budget tried to maintain the status quo, even if barely. Little in the speech suggested a stimulation of the economy in such a way that it would be able to overcome some of the most fundamental challenges that South Africa faces, including youth unemployment.

In conclusion, Gigiba thanks a number of dignitaries, his work colleagues and his family. Where is the thanks for hard working South Africans who pay their taxes? His final words sting, “Let us work together to create a better life for every citizen and inhabitant of our beloved country. Let each of us lend a hand”. We are having to dig deep into our pockets to pay for reckless and imprudent government spending and corruption.

Yet, paradoxically, as people of faith the way to survive this ordeal, is to lend a hand, so that together we will be able to create a better life for everyone.