As we celebrate Africa month and honour a continent that has nurtured us, we embrace the rich diversity, culture and heritage that we share as a people of Africa. It is our responsibility to know our continent and understand her people.
Our calling is to strive to maintain a liberated, united and prosperous Africa. In my quest to achieve these objectives I have had the privilege of learning about a people, a land and a forgotten story of our very own continent.
Everyday life happens, we go about our daily routine, and then as if from nowhere a story finds you, you don’t see it, you don’t expect it, but it’s there and it reshapes your perspective. A paradigm shift takes place and your view point is changed forever.
Six months ago I had no idea that a nation known as the Saharawi, and a country called the Western Sahara even existed, no less than on our own continent, Africa. I had no idea that there were human atrocities happening in North West Africa that in South Africa we know nothing of, it is not spoken of, and knowledge of this is very difficult to acquire.
The Western Sahara; commonly referred to as the last frontier of Africa, has been under the illegal occupation of Morocco, in accordance to international law. In 1963 the Western Sahara was added to the United Nations list of non-self governing territories and it was only in 1975 that the Western Sahara saw the departure of their coloniser Spain. The Spanish left and Madrid ceded control of the territory to Morocco and Mauritania.
Both countries claiming sovereignty over the territory this triggered an armed conflict with the Polisario Front, the liberation movement; that the UN considers as the legitimate representation of the Saharawi people. This conflict marked the beginning of a refugee crisis that has become an ongoing and forgotten conflict. Africa can never, ever be free until those across our continent have their basic human rights, self determination and an opportunity to live freely!
Four decades have passed since the Saharawi refugee crisis began; today these people are still living in exile, while their families are back home, in the occupied territory, those that stayed behind are subjected to inhumane conditions. 40 years on, how do a people keep hope alive?
This is a subject that is tabled and included on the agenda of the UN Security Council each year, this is as a result of the groundwork done by the African Union; yet generations later children are being born in a refugee camp, with no idea as to the world outside of the camps.
In 1975 the Saharawi were forced to flee their land and found refuge in south-west Algeria, with the expectation that one day they would return to their home. Traditionally a nomadic people, they have been forced to settle in an arid desert environment with no opportunity to be self-sufficient or productive. A camp set up in the midst of the desert, exposed to extreme heat that reaches 55’celcius, harsh sandstorms, constant drought and infrequent but hostile torrential rains.
Standing up for those who cannot
These are a people that have been denied their home, their independence and their human rights! I know all of this now, because I had the opportunity to visit, learn and engage with these forgotten people. I was invited by the Saharawi Women Organisation to join them at a refugee camp just outside Tindouf in Algeria, in a camp called Smara. There was much debate and discussion before my decision was made to embark on this journey.
A journey, that would take me to a far corner of the African continent and would see me live with refugees, in refugee conditions. For seven days I committed to living with the exiled Saharawi, an urban being in the desert, with no running water, no electricity, no arable land, no food, no basics; I would get to come home after my time in the camp, but the families there would not go home, and they would not have something different tomorrow, they live day to day.
They survive only on the basket of dried goods that is air-dropped every month by the World Food Programme (WFP). These people do not get to go home: this is the only home that they now know…
When this story found me, I was faced by many questions, where was this, what were the logistics involved, what were the security challenges, what were the health risks, the ultimate question, “Could people on our continent be living without the right of self governance, and self determination?” I was challenged to step from the known into the unknown, so as to see, hear and know what truth lay behind this story. I was compelled to seek information and to create an awareness of the human rights issue of the #SaharawiPeople.
I stand in solidarity with a people who have fought for 40 years to be independent and have the right to self determination and decolonisation. I now ask the question, “Are the Saharawi a forgotten people of the world, or is it just easier to turn a blind eye to an illegal occupation?” The total population of the Saharawi is approximately one million people.
The Western Sahara is a land rich in mineral resources, oil, gold, the world’s largest deposits of phosphates and a rich fishing coastline to name but a few of the natural resources, these resources should be the right of the Saharawi people, this should be what they could have built their economy on, and yet they can-not go home and they live a meagre existence in a refugee camp.
Travelling to the forgotten people
It was 23h30, I had been travelling for 18 hours; the last flight had been by military plane into an army base two hours away from the refugee camps. No business class, no luggage conveyor, a cold, war like structure. A seasoned traveller, this was somewhat different; used to gliding through snow white clouds and blue skies.
The military aircraft ploughed through the sky, with much noise and movement, there was a feeling of displacement in the air, my journey was happening. On arrival at the camps the darkness was intriguing. It was as if a thick blanket concealed the story I would uncover in the days ahead. My eyes began to adjust I could see these little tents peering through, dwellings scattered across a vastness of nothing, this was the desert. No markings or indication as to where we were, or where we were going.
Some of the tents and small structures had a gentle shine which I was told was the only light source which was emitted from a solar powered battery, candle light or a rechargeable lamp.
The shadow of light carried an ambiance of hope and comfort. Bumedian, my new friend and expert desert driver, explained to me, “It is easier to drive at night as your bearings lie in the stars and constellations.” I was mesmerised by the light of the moon and the soft glow that fell across the camp that allowed me a glimpse of what I would see when day arrived.
The warm embrace of Shabba and Miriam, two sisters from the family that I stayed with, was overwhelming and emotional. Language was a huge barrier, as no English is spoken by the majority of Saharawi people, who all speak a dialect of Arabic, and a small group also speak French. We made our way into the family tent, where we were asked to leave our shoes outside. Mutha, an English student and the protocol officer, stayed with me.
As day broke, the tender sound of the Muazzin was heard across the camp, and the women of the family I stayed with started their first prayers for the day. Breakfast was a humble helping of dry bread, jam and milk coffee, there is no running water, long life milk is all that is available, and it is considered a luxury for those that do have it. I quickly learnt that water is very scarce and used for washing before prayers and refreshing rinses at the hottest times of the day.
The basic routine of bathing in the morning, washing your teeth and other ‘daily rituals’ were somewhat of a luxury. This family had no toiletry bag filled with the items we take for granted, toothpaste and toothbrushes were not available.
I stepped out of the family tent, and was struck by the bright light and the vast naked desert. As far as my eye could see, in every direction, tiny dwellings and tents covered the landscape. I paused to get my bearings, as reality and shock started to become reality. Slowly the gentle laughter of children filled the crisp morning air and started to permeate the harsh reality that I could see around me.
These children do not know anything other than this camp; they are playful, happy and content. The desert sand is their playground; nothing grows here, not a shrub, not a blade of grass and not a tree to be found, there is no vegetation of any kind. I quickly realised that there is no oasis in this desert. A ‘lilo’ like plastic is placed alongside each tent, which is filled with rationed water for each family; the water truck comes every few weeks.
My family were insistent that I use as much water as I needed, but I humbly acknowledged that I would get to go home and I would leave these beautiful people here in the Sahara, still with no running water or electricity.
Waiting to go home
As I lay my head on the floor that night, I closed my eyes and I knew that tomorrow would never be the same, I would never be the same; I was a different person… I thought that poverty was what we had to fight, but this surpassed poverty, here there was nothing.
I knew that I could not mistake the soft light, the amazing heavens, the smiles the children shared, their willingness to share love with me, did not mean that all was well. These are people that, 40 years on, still have a packed bag in their tent, so that when they are called, they will be ready to go home.
I ask that people support my call; support their call, to bring about international action, in order to bring about the change that the Saharawi people have been waiting for; they must be given their rights as a people.
A refugee camp is a place of loneliness and nothingness, yet one could easily be mistaken that the bright and colourful material worn by the women of the Western Sahara is what brings light and colour to this bare landscape. However, you would be sorely mistaken as the light in the camp comes from the power of the human spirit within these people.
These people are proof that even under such harsh conditions, despite a lack of human rights and a call for action for them to return home, I could feel that #HopeLivesHere.
We need to stand against the existence of such; we need to demand the right of self determination, self governance and human rights for all people. It saddens my very fibre that people must wait for a monthly food basket composed of nine dry commodities; that never change, there is no variation, it always remains the same, and it is all that there is.
There is a will power, a strength of mind and a community built by the determination and strength of women who play the most crucial role in pushing this movement forward! The human spirit LIVES, it lives in these camps, in those tents and in the heart of all who pass through that place!
3 Stealthy Tax Hikes Payroll Managers And Employees Need To Take Note Of
By Rob Cooper, tax expert at Sage, and chairman of the Payroll Authors Group of South Africa
“Dammed if you do and dammed if you don’t.”
The adage summarises the difficult decisions government and the Finance Minister faced when balancing the country’s books, rescuing state-owned enterprises, and reviving the growth of our economy. Given the economic pressure that most taxpayers are facing, government ideally needed to achieve all of that without direct increases to personal income tax in the most recent Budget Speech.
Personal income tax has comprised at least a third of South Africa’s total tax revenue in recent tax years, despite growing unemployment. The 2019 Budget, presented in February, forecasts that personal income tax will account for nearly 39% of tax collected during the upcoming (2019/20) tax year. Given that we are in an election year and that the tax base is fragile, it’s not surprising that the Finance Minister and the National Treasury avoided direct increases to the statutory tax tables used to calculate PAYE for employees in the budget.
Nonetheless, government has made inflation work in its favour to impose some tax increases by stealth. Here are three ways government is raising more revenue without direct tax increases:
1. Bracket creep
The statutory tax tables used by payrolls and employers have not been changed for 2019/20, nor have the brackets been adjusted for inflation. This effectively amounts to an indirect tax increase that will yield a revenue saving of approximately R12.8 billion for government’s coffers.
It is not unusual for government to use ‘bracket creep’ to effectively raise more revenue. But unlike previous tax years, even low- and middle-income earners are not getting much relief. Rebates and the tax threshold are being increased by small amounts to allow some relief, but many people this year will feel the pain as inflationary salary increases push them into a higher tax bracket.
2. Medical aid credit not adjusted for inflation
As proposed in the 2018 Budget, the Finance Minister did not apply an inflationary increase to the Medical Tax Credit, which allowed him to raise an extra R1 billion in revenue for the year. Surprisingly, these funds will be allocated to general tax revenue rather than ring-fenced for healthcare. In previous tax years, revenue generated from below-inflation increases on medical scheme credits was used to fund National Health Insurance (NHI) pilot projects.
There is still no clarity on how the NHI is going to be funded except for a general statement that the funding model is a problem for the National Treasury to solve, and that the principles of cross-subsidisation will apply. One wonders if any real progress will be made soon, given the fiscal constraints government faces.
3. Business travel deduction left untouched
The Budget leaves the per-kilometre cost rates used to determine tax deductions for business travel untouched. By not increasing travel rates to account for inflation, government effectively increases income tax collection at the cost of the taxpayer. This will be a blow for people who need to claim from their employers for business travel in their personal vehicles. This change has slipped through largely unnoticed and the budget does not provide numbers for the expected increase in tax revenue.
Amid political turmoil and uncertainty, the Finance Minister presented a balanced budget for 2019/20 that offers hope for the future along with some tough love. With government taking steps to accelerate economic growth and improve revenue collection, we should hopefully see a steady improvement in government finances, which will translate into less pressure on the taxpayer in future years.
SMEs: Staying On The Right Side Of The Taxman
Remaining SARS compliant can be a constant challenge for small- to medium-enterprises (SMEs), especially when they are trying to focus on growing their businesses and streamlining their operations.
EasyBiz Managing Director, Gary Epstein, says submitting taxes can be a seamless process that does not have to take up more time than is necessary. “If business owners understand what is required of them and they put a few processes into place to deal with their tax submissions properly, their lives will be so much easier.”
What are the top three considerations for SMEs when submitting tax returns?
“Firstly,” says Epstein, “SARS returns must be accurate and submitted in terms of the relevant Act. Secondly, returns should be submitted and paid on time to avoid unnecessary penalties and interest, and thirdly, business owners must follow up on queries issued by SARS. “Do not ignore these queries, act on them as soon as possible”.
What are the major SARS submission deadlines for SMEs?
Epstein points out that small business owners need to adhere to various tax deadlines, each with their own particular dates for submission. “It is important that business owners diarise the dates (and set advance reminders for themselves) and/or enlist the services of an accountant or financial adviser to help them keep abreast of requirements.”
Value-added tax (VAT)
VAT payments need to be submitted in the VAT period allocated to the business, according to various categories and ending on the last day of a calendar month. This may mean making payments once a month, once every two months, once every six months or annually, depending on the category.
Provisional tax should be submitted at the end of August (first provisional) and at the end of February (second provisional) – for February year-end companies.
In addition to submitting an annual reconciliation (EMP501) for the period 1 March to end of February for Pay-As-You-Earn (PAYE), Skills Development Levy (SDL) and Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF), employee tax, in the form of an EMP201 return, needs to be submitted by the seventh of every month.
When can SMEs get extensions and is it worth it?
Epstein says SMEs can apply for various extensions, but these are subject to the Income Tax Act and Tax Administration Act.
“It is best for SMEs to consult their tax professionals to get advice regarding extensions for their businesses.”
What is SARS not flexible about?
SARS is not flexible when it comes to late returns and late payments.
“I cannot stress enough how important it is for SME owners to ensure their tax returns are submitted on time. In this way, they will avoid the inconvenience and expense of additional fines and interest,” notes Epstein.
What skills do SMEs need in their organisations to be able to submit to SARS efficiently?
Business owners often don’t have the time or expertise to deal with tax submissions throughout the year. If the business cannot afford to employ a full-time accountant or financial services expert, it would do well to outsource its tax requirements to a registered tax practitioner.
“I would recommend that even if they are not submitting the tax returns themselves, business owners should have a broad understanding of the tax regulations and what is expected of them. There is a lot of helpful information on the various Acts and tax requirements on SARS’ website,” says Epstein.
How does the right software help SMEs remain SARS compliant?
SME’s (and their accountants’) jobs can be made easier by using reliable accounting software to calculate accurate VAT reports. These reports are only as accurate as the data entered into them, which means care needs to be taken when inputting data into the accounting programme. Epstein says a good accounting software package must be reliable, easy to use and functional.
“SMEs need to check that the software has thorough reporting capabilities and can interface with other software solutions. Of course, it is also important to find out whether the software is locally supported by the vendor or not.”
4 Dangers Of Business Under-insurance
A common short-term insurance peril that many SMEs face when submitting a claim following an insured event is the risk of being underinsured.
Malesela Maupa, Head of Products and Insurer Relationships at FNB Insurance Brokers says, many small business owners mistakenly believe that by merely having a short-term insurance policy in place they are adequately protected against unforeseen events.
“This is technically correct provided that the business is covered for the full replacement value of the items insured. However, in circumstances where the sum insured does not cover the full replacement value or material loss of the item insured, the business is underinsured,” explains Maupa, as he unpacks the dangers of business underinsurance:
1. Financial loss
The most common risk is financial loss on the part of the business. If the business is underinsured or the indemnity period understated, the short-term insurance policy will only pay out the sum insured for the stated indemnity period as stated in the schedule, with the business owner having to provide for the shortfall. This often leads to cash flow challenges, impacting profit margins or rendering it difficult for the business to recover following the financial loss.
2. Reputational damage
Should an underinsured business not have sufficient funds to replace a key business activity or critical component following a loss, this may impact its ability to fulfil its contractual obligations, leading to a loss of business or market share, and irreparable reputational damage in the worst-case scenario.
3. Legal action
A small business also faces the risk of customers or clients taking legal action against it, should it fail to deliver on goods and services following a loss or be unable to honour its financial commitments that they committed to prior to the loss.
4. Survival of the business
A catastrophic event such as fire, which could result in the loss of stock or company equipment and documentation, could threaten the survival of a small business that is not yet fully established, if the business assets are not adequately insured.
Working with an experienced short-term insurance broker or insurer is essential when taking up short-term insurance to ensure that business contents are covered for their full replacement value.
Furthermore, depending on the nature of the business or item insured, the policy should be reviewed on a regular basis to avoid underinsurance as the value of items often change overtime due to fluctuations in economic activity. Where it’s necessary, evaluation certificates need to be kept up to date.
“Lastly, SMEs should ensure that the sum insured does not exceed the replacement value, which would lead to over insurance. Should a business submit a claim following a loss, the insurer would only pay out the replacement value, regardless of the higher sum insured,” concludes Maupa.