July 23, 2018

Equality before the law: Tata Mandela’s Lasting Legacy

Last week, on 18 July, Nelson Mandela would have turned 100. Without a doubt his legacy is summarised in section 9 of the Constitution — the equality clause. Madiba always frowned upon inequality, racial discrimination and generally any form of discrimination that was unfair.

He was born into a world order where racial segregation and inequality were as real and normal as breathing. He, as well as many others who challenged the unjust world order, and the South African order in particular, was without doubt courageous.

This is even more so because he had a choice. He could, like many others before him who treated racial inequality as an historical oddity that had nothing to do with him, only ensured his survival and that of his family. He could have done the most normal thing: avoided rocking the world order’s proverbial boat. By all accounts, he could have been financially well of as an attorney and his family could have lived in relative opulence, devoid of any moral censure. In fact, he cwould have been respected for it.

On the centenary year of his birth, amidst various searches of his true legacy, it is but fitting to cite one of his lasting legacies.

In a 1994 live pre-election TV debate with the then President De Klerk, Madiba vowed that upon his election as the President of the country, he would ensure that in league with the equality before the law clauseof the Constitution, even the country’s president would pay income tax on his income, resources and perks.

At the time of the TV debate and for many years before, the remuneration of Presidents and the Deputy Presidents were exempt from tax in terms of section 10(1)(c) (i) of the Income Tax Act.

Immediately below is the historical synopsis of the Presidential exemption provided under section 10(1)(c)(i) (“the section”):

  • For many years before 1981, Presidents enjoyed exemption in that they did not have to account for tax on their income;


  • The section was in 1981 amended by section 8(1)(a) of Act 96 of 1981 to extend the exemption to the Deputy Presidents;


  • In 1984, the exemption was taken away from both the Deputy and the President with the result that they then had to account for income Tax on their respective income;



  • In 1985, the 1984 withdrawal was reversed in respect of the President, effectively leaving only the Deputy President to account for Tax on his income; and


  • In 1994 and on Nelson Mandela’s insistence as then President, he (as the President) was to pay tax on his income, resources and presidential perks. Thus, in 1994, section 10(1)(c)(i) according to which Presidents were exempted from paying tax on their income, was deleted in terms of section 9(1)(a) of Act 21 of 1994. This was done to ensure that tax laws applied equally to all South Africans.

To Tata Nelson Mandela: On the centenary year of your birth, in addition to your courage generally, we salute you for bringing about this symbolic tax equality before the law.


Frank Setati
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