Tutu explains ‘wealth tax’ comment

Time of article published Aug 19, 2011

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Marianne Merten

If wealthy South Africans contributed to an anti-poverty fund, possibly run by eminent bankers and business people, it would be a “magnificent gesture” amid the global recession and a widening wealth gap at home, says Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu.

Writing for Independent Newspapers, Tutu elaborated on his call last week for a “wealth tax” on whites in the interest of reconciliation and ubuntu.

This comes in the wake of support from, among others, constitutional law commentator Professor Pierre de Vos and ex-apartheid-era deputy minister and MP Tertius Delport, who during an SAfm debate yesterday indicated he would support such a fund, if it were earmarked for specific projects, including providing computers for schools in disadvantaged areas.

“What a magnificent gesture it would be, now, in the context of a global financial recession and widening wealth gap at home, were relatively wealthy South Africans to contribute to a central fund aiming to contribute to the national effort to uplift the poor,” said Tutu. “Imagine if a group of eminent South African bankers and business people came together with a plan for the administration of a national wealth fund – to be managed by captains of industry, not government.”

Tutu said he did not doubt many would contribute generously. The wealth tax, first mooted by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, could be paid to a fund based on a percentage of income to be collected by the Receiver of Revenue, an independent statutory body or a voluntary fund.

“The value of the exercise extends way beyond the physical exchange of cash; it is a gesture in restoration and reconciliation; a vehicle to assuage pent-up guilt, to share, to show that we care; an opportunity to lay another brick in our road to a better society.”

Tutu said South Africans had become complacent and had sat back to bask in the initial achievements of the transition to democracy. Today, richer South Africans were failing their poorer counterparts and white South Africans continued to fail to acknowledge or respond to the magnanimity of their black fellow citizens’ willingness to forgive in the 1990s.

And he reiterated his call on cabinet ministers to sell their expensive cars to show they cared for the plight of the poor.

Those who could afford it lived in “a society of fantastic wines and restaurants and expensive tastes in automobiles wrist watches and real estate”, while millions of South Africans continued to live in poverty.

“The old haves continue to have and they’ve been joined by some new haves. But most or our people remain have nots. And, most of them are black,” said Tutu.

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