A Taxing Day

19 01 2009

I feel in my heart, great sorrow, for the hundreds of South African nationals who die each year in the snake-like queues at the South African Revenue Services offices here in the Eastern Cape. They can be seen standing in patient pose with eyes glazed in a distant stare; their bodies beautifully preserved by the chill of the air-conditioner which whirrs softly overhead. Some clutching papers, some with furrowed brow, but all carrying the secret envy of the person in front of them.
And it was this serpentine line of dejected faces that greeted me last week as I entered the main foyer of the SARS building. Spooky.
The building itself is new. It towers over the poorer part of town in which it was built – let them eat cake, but with a roof. The sun streams in through towering glass facades and gleams its way over granite floors and staircases filling every nook and cranny with the pale glow of false optimism. Tax money well spent I say as I climb the glistening stairs. Far more aesthetically pleasing than a public school and far more useful than an efficient national health care system. Besides, we don’t have an aids problem in our country remember, thanks to the newly patented ‘ZumaShower™’ panacea which has taken the country by storm. Who knew!

The task at hand was to clear up tax clearance certification. There was an unsettling rumor doing the rounds that without tax clearance, you stand the chance of being apprehended at the airport by some obnoxious official and being tethered to the wing of a rusty old plane bound for Calcutta. And no one likes the plague. So the tax thing REALLY needed to be sorted out.
Pity no one at SARS really knows what they are doing and hence this rumor remains as such.
The tax clearance guy at SARS doesn’t give you much information. You see, if you are in the tax clearance certificate line, it means that you know everything there is to know about tax clearances. All he has to do is hand you the forms. In fact, if you are in the line, it is not only assumed that you are well versed in the financial tax laws of South Africa, but that you can also yodel Trevor Manuel’s last budget speech by heart while juggling 6 financial calculators above your head.

If you want information on how to fill in the form then you are in luck. But don’t ask if you actually need the form, because you are in the queue. So you must. DUH.
It was only when we spoke to a woman at the bank that the dark clouds across the landscape parted and revealed the sunny warmth of reason. ‘The One Who Shows the Light’ (a.k.a. Colleen) – an absolute miracle of a woman working in foreign exchange, assured us that we would not be apprehended at the airport, and we would not be tethered to any object protruding from the fuselage of an Air India plane. Phew. She also did not care for my yodeling which was starting make the glass security pane between us vibrate horribly.

And so it was that our tax fears were allayed and we could at last bury those awful rumors once and for all. The only nagging questions we had left surrounded the inner workings of SARS. But then I remembered the ZumaShower™, which I had purchased only a few weeks ago from my nearest Verimark© store. Same results.
SARS sure looks great on the outside, but inside it’s still pretty sick.