Heated debate over guilt card or white privilege

Cape Town – Fin24 user Joanne Brown says that despite SA’s brilliant tax collection system, the country has a third world tax distribution system.

She was responding to Mandi Smallhorne’s column: Take the red flags seriously, where Smallhorne called on the allegedly still-privileged whites of South Africa to pay attention to angry protesters in recent uprisings, most notably the EFF march on the JSE and the #FeesMustFall protests where students demanded not just no fee increases, but also a halt to outsourcing.

“Both sets of marchers were protesting the inequality that translates into desperate situations,” Smallhorne wrote.

Drawing parallels between the suffering of a frail, rural black woman who was denied even basic privileges and JSE CEO Nicky Newton King, Smallhorne noted that even if Newton King came from an unmonied, no-trust-fund white family like her own, she had still benefited from white privilege.

In her response to Smallhorne’s column, Brown said the guilt trip card has simply been overused.

Brown writes: We have a state of the art tax collection system which is brilliant at collecting mountains of money to be used for the benefit of all South Africans.

However, we appear to have a third world distribution system as far as the use of this money goes.

I have every sympathy (and I mean it – I have been there) for any person who is battling financially. However, the plug is out of the bath but the flow from the tap just increases.

We need to address the source of the problem and stop running around with begging bowls to all the ‘previously advantaged’, many of whom work long hours, battling horrific traffic to put in these long hours only to be told once again that it isn’t enough. The guilt trip card has simply been overused.

We are not addressing the actual problem and pouring more money into this black hole is not going to fix it.

I receive no state benefits in any way so I would assume a large amount of my tax is going to the previously disadvantaged.

I donate to the biggest charity organisation in South Africa – the Receiver of Revenue. South Africans need to take responsibility for this economic debacle and insist that the plug be put back in before simply ‘ducking up’.

I do not feel guilty in any way as I work hard for what I earn. I do not want to give any more because the current mismanagement of funds is not my fault.

I do not feel obliged to make up for what the powers that be lack (particularly since I didn’t vote them in).

Billions are unaccounted for in each year’s budget. Are people deaf or illiterate or do they not realise that this is tax money disappearing?

Stop feeling guilty and take the bull by the horns – we taxpayers are not the problem.

In a counter-response, Smallhorne said guilt was not the metric and tax not the issue.

“I think the reader misses the point entirely… I did not mention tax in this context (I have no problem with higher levels of tax, by the way; but I totally agree that this is only playable if we tackle the terrible implementation of policies and the soaring corruption).

If you’re white and living in South Africa in this moment, you have inherited a problem. You may have arrived from Europe ten years ago or your ancestors may have got off one of the early Dutch boats in the late 1600s; you may have voted Nationalist party or, like me, been born into a family which loathed the Nats; you may have gone to Michaelhouse courtesy of your Randlord ancestors or grown up in a railway house on the West Rand; it doesn’t matter. The fact is, you have white privilege.

No matter how hard you work and how tough the row you hoe – and of course many white people work very hard indeed, and lots of us, me included, do not come from the rich backgrounds which so many assume was the automatic lot of all whites under apartheid – you have still been powered by an unseen booster which many whites don’t even realise exists.

Cannot not be white

I didn’t want it, I didn’t ask for it, I rejected it – in one favourite compliment, during the 1980s, I was called “the girl who doesn’t want to be white” – and I did my tiny little part in fighting apartheid. But I cannot not be white.

This offspring of working class whites is, as much as any Oppenheimer or Botha, the beneficiary of hundreds of years of colonial and apartheid policies which skewed resources and status in favour of whites.

I am, however unwillingly part of the inequality equation. All sorts of stats tell me that, despite the gnashing of teeth and wailing round the dinner tables, whites are on the whole still earning better, more likely to be employed, more likely to have access to private healthcare and much more (I think AfricaCheck has done some sterling work on this reality).

Our advantages are obvious, in your face.

Now, think about this: recent reports tell us 50% of our youth – and that almost entirely means black young people – are unemployed.

They have little hope, under present circumstances, of being employed. Those circumstances include a government which seems to have little real, practical interest in defusing this time-bomb.

The situation calls for urgent action. Now. This year, not next.

I feel like some TV character, shouting: “Code Red! Code Red!” Can you not see that we, the currently privileged (and yes, you can include a small scraping of rich black citizens in that category now) are at serious risk under these circumstances?

When the marching band of a hundred thousand angry, desperate people pours into your office district or your suburb, you cannot lean out of the window and yell: “I worked hard for everything I have! I pay tax! It’s the government’s fault!”

The private sector and civil society – composed of corporate execs, entrepreneurs, NGO activists, church leaders, whatever – includes some very smart and savvy people.

I was asking that we all engage in this, think creatively and act voluntarily, with urgency, to create real change – or change will come upon us, and we may really, really not like the way it comes. Ask Marie Antoinette about that.

I was not playing ‘the guilt card’. I was playing the ‘do you really want to have to run for your life?’ card, if you like. I challenge you – I challenge all of us – to put serious energy into facing up to this reality and finding real, effective and immediate solutions.

– Agree or disagree? Share you opinion. It could get published.

Disclaimer: All articles and letters published on Fin24 have been independently written by members of the Fin24 community. The views of users published on Fin24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent those of Fin24.