It is a shame that inequality has become sharper during our constitutional democracy than during apartheid.
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Dali Mpofu (Picture: City Press)
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The latest developments in our politics bring to mind that saying that goes, "There is no honour among thieves."
Naah… I'm stretching it, that does not really capture what I want to talk about here today. Let me try something else: "The only things that are certain in life are death and taxes!"
That is more like it! But let me try to be more forthright instead of dilly dallying with some poetry. Here it comes: The EFF commander-in-chief Julius Malema is haunted by his past tax problems. This is a serious threat to the moral integrity of the EFF as a political party that is trying to build a reputation as a party that speaks truth to power.
The ongoing SARS inquiry has revealed the moral dilemma that the EFF finds itself in.
Since the inquiry started a few weeks ago, the party has had to explain itself because its chairperson, Advocate Dali Mpofu, is acting on behalf of the suspended SARS boss, Tom Moyane, who is attempting to set aside his suspension. Mpofu is within his rights as a lawyer to defend anyone who he wishes to, and he does not have to explain himself to the court of public opinion when exercising his duties as a judicial officer. The problem in this situation however is that Mpofu is defending a man who is alleged to have been instrumental in cutting tax deals with controversial figures including alleged tobacco smugglers and underworld characters.
What makes the situation even worse is that Mpofu's decision to defend Moyane – a decision that could have been taken irrespective of how the EFF as a party feels about Moyane – fits perfectly with the perception that Mpofu's defence will also benefit the EFF, who are alleged to have accepted financial donations from one of the figures whose business interests gained from Moyane's hand at SARS.
Bear with me for using the word "alleged" so many times here; this is to ensure that no one threatens me with a lawsuit for professing untruths about people.
Law professor Pierre de Vos and author Jacques Pauw have already been threatened with law suits for their public utterances that the EFF has received money from underworld characters whose tax problems mysteriously disappeared during Moyane's reign at SARS.
The SARS inquiry and decision by Advocate Mpofu to defend the embattled Moyane has brought to the public eye circumstances under which Malema's tax problems were made to go away.
Mr Malema has been uncharacteristically quiet since Pauw fired a salvo last week that a tobacco smuggler might have settled his huge tax bill, insinuating that the EFF commander-in-chief might have gained from proceeds of crime. The lawyers have probably advised Malema to stay quiet on this; in case the DA becomes creative and demands some form of a review on the manner in which Malema's tax problems were resolved.
Either way you look at it, this is a serious moral challenge to the EFF as a party that has recently taken a strong position against corruption.
Even more worrying for the leadership of the EFF is that this brings to life the ghost of Malema's tax problems, an issue that has been nearly forgotten by the public in the past few years of Jacob Zuma's rampant corruption.
This proves that tax problems, just like death, are certain and more real than any rhetoric that one can spin. The EFF will have to explain itself in relation to this matter; and the party might be distracted from policy issues to attend to this matter.
Speaking of which, SARS has issued returns and it is time to file for taxes. To those young people out there with political ambitions, please file your tax returns so that you don't have to explain yourself in the future when you venture into politics.
If there is anything that is sure to disturb a political career, it is tax. Imagine getting into a conversation with your political opponents and they ask you to publicise your tax history before they go into a discussion with you! If your closet is full of tax skeletons, it would be difficult to open it for public scrutiny.
Willingness to comply with tax laws is the first indication of commitment to public service. Anything less than that is posturing. Don't say uMalume did not warn me!
- Ralph Mathekga is a Fellow at the SARChI Chair: African Diplomacy and Foreign Policy at the University of Johannesburg and author of When Zuma Goes and Ramaphosa's Turn.
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