If Finance Minister Tito Mboweni announces significant changes to individual taxes during his Budget speech on February 26 it could have wide-ranging implications for South Africa’s heavily burdened tax base.
There are numerous actions which the Minister could take to bolster the state’s coffers, including a possible VAT increase, an increase in Personal Income Tax as well as Capital Gains Tax.
Of course, tax increases, while driven by fiscal policy, have weighty economic implications, which I am sure the Minister and his team have considered extensively.
For investors, any increases or changes could have an impact on estate and financial planning moving forward. Here is how any one of these increases could impact you.
Value Added Tax:
In 2018 the tax charged on goods and services was increased from 14% to 15%. It’s uncertain whether another increase would be implemented but if it is it would mean an almost immediate increase in the cost of living which will impact any household’s financial plan.
The point of departure for any financial plan is to determine the living standard of a person and his or her family. The living standard of a household drives a well-prepared budget for the family.
Since VAT is a consumption tax, it will have a direct impact on the budgeting discipline of a household. One should re-visit your priorities, re-arrange, and start making tough decisions between what is necessary to have, and what is nice to have.
Personal Income Tax
I am sure the Minister will have looked at ways to adjust personal income brackets and even weighed up an increase on personal tax across the board. Currently the continuum of income tax ranges from 18% at the lower end to 45% and R532 041 of taxable income at the upper end. It’s difficult to see how government could justify a wholesale income tax increase but it is not impossible to see a rate hike to 46%, or perhaps a once off levy for persons in the top tax bracket.
The marginal rate was much higher in earlier years.
What is more a given, is that the necessary inflationary adjustments will not be made in the income tax brackets. It may also be far too optimistic to hope for an increase in the medical credits, and to a lesser extent age credits.
To neutralise the effect of personal tax increases one must maximise on tax deductions, for instance contributions to retirement funds. These contributions will drastically reduce the effective rate of tax payable.
Currently the taxpayer enjoys generous tax relief for contributions to a retirement fund, and since retirement is a definite goal in our journey through life, the full amount invested in a tax-free growth portfolio, will be of personal benefit one day. It is unlikely that the maximum tax-deductible amount will be increased, given the favourable tax relief we currently enjoy.
Capital Gains Tax
This is probably the one area where there is room for significant change. Government is under pressure from certain quarters to increase tax on the wealthy and taxing the gains made on the sale of assets could be where they make up some ground.
It has been four years since we saw a significant increase in the capital gains inclusion rate. Initially the inclusion rate was 25%, and gradually increased to 40%. It is ironic that the original rate in 2001 was to allow for relief in inflationary growth of capital assets. Increasing the current 40% inclusion rate will pay lip service to the original intent and will be a serious factor to consider.
Should the effective rate for capital gains be increased the popularity of tax-free investments, where no capital gains are paid upon maturity, will become much more attractive for the long term.
The role of the financial planner and a suitable long-term investment strategy, aligned with a future lifestyle goal, will become important for the investor.
The idea of a Wealth Tax has been bandied since 2018 following the conclusion of the Davis Tax Committee. To date very few recommendations were incorporated, save for the curbing of the use of trust for estate duty saving purposes and an increase in the estate duty rate. However, the collections from estate duty was meagre. It will be interesting to see if some of the other recommendations will be considered, for example the estate duty relief for spousal bequest. Spousal bequests currently escape estate duty.
Whatever the Minister announces on Wednesday South Africans will be impacted in some shape or form. There are immense pressures on his Department to cut costs and demonstrate responsible fiscal spending. This, however, must be weighed against the growing need for income to aid government in meeting its infrastructure, health, education and social welfare responsibilities. Investors, in fact all South Africans, would do well to tune in to the Minister’s speech to gauge the likely impact on themselves and their finances.
Whilst South Africans have until the end of February to share their comment on the draft national policy for beneficiary selection and land allocation, Prof Brian Ganson, Head of the Africa Centre for Dispute Settlement at the University of Stellenbosch Business School (USB) argues that “the land reform debate largely remains a dialogue of the deaf.
Many spend their energy shouting about how they are right and others are wrong.”
He proposes that conflict resolution and problem-solving skills of perspective-taking and bridging principles – proven in other long-entrenched conflicts – be applied in South Africa to shift heated public debate beyond opposing, one-sided arguments to “move the conversation forward and engender real problem solving”.
Prof Ganson says land reform in South Africa is critically important in its own right: an unfinished promise to redress epic historic wrongs on the one hand, and on the other, a project that could easily have unintended negative social and economic consequences – in particular for the poor black South Africans it is most needed to serve – if poorly managed.
“How we all go about land reform is also a bellwether of our ability to engage around the construction of the just, democratic, and united South Africa envisioned by the Constitution,” he said.
Prof Ganson said research had shown that a key skill of people who help find solutions to exceptionally entrenched conflicts is perspective-taking: the capacity to view the world – even if temporarily – through the lens of other people’s fears, hopes, rights, and interests.
“If we want a satisfying meal of positive progress – rather than just the thin gruel of self-righteous indignation that all sides of the land debate seem to be enjoying – a starting point might therefore be to acknowledge where others are right,” he said.
He invited those who react strongly against the phrase, “give back the land”, to consider how there may be nothing remotely radical about such a demand – the principle is already contained in the Constitution.
“The current Constitution – never mind any amendments under consideration – promises restitution to people and communities dispossessed of property as a result of racially discriminatory laws or practices going back to 1913. It gives Government broad latitude to carry this out. Any other proposed solution can and should be measured against ‘giving back the land’ to those who have legitimate expectations that it be returned.”
Prof Ganson urged recognition that the mixing of questions on the principles of restitution of land with those of whether and how people to whom land is returned would put it to productive use, “must be hurtful and angering in the extreme” to former black landholders and their descendants.
“It reeks of the argument in favour of the Natives Land Act of 1913 by the President of the Chamber of Mines, who opined that it would end ‘the surplus of young men … squatting on the land in idleness’ – but in fact provided low wage workers for the mines as it destroyed families and communities for generations to come.”
Prof Ganson suggests that, “In relation to those currently holding land that may be returned in the name of restitution under the provisions of the Constitution, we can concede that many of the issues they raise – even if immaterial to the fundamental right of dispossessed people and communities to land – are real.”
He suggests that it need not be in contention that it would indeed be better for all South Africans if land reform is managed in a way that confronts the realities of the substantial bonds on many properties, minimises corruption, maximises food security, and improves the possibilities for people either to make their livelihoods from the land or to make their transition to urban life, each according to his or her choice.
He believes that such perspective-taking might in the first instance invite parties to let go of one-sided arguments that serve to raise hackles rather than engender any real problem solving.
“Putting tongue in cheek for a moment, the current owners of large plots in Bishopscourt and Sandhurst, or Plettenberg Bay and Umhlanga, might agree that the person to whom land is returned is entitled to do anything with it, or nothing at all – lest universal application of standards of idleness or lack of productive use put their own tenure in question.”
“Others might begin to realise that ‘expropriation without compensation’ is a wonderful rallying cry in the international press but fairly empty here at home. Property returned to its rightful owner is hardly being expropriated; and thus, the fundamental question that cannot be bypassed is not one of compensation, but one of just and rightful ownership consistent with the mandates of the Constitution for restoration and transformation.”
He argued that those who currently weaponise the concept of ‘give back the land’ to exclude any discussion at all might admit that the phrase might usefully be continued: ‘… in ways that protect the poor and vulnerable from corrupt officials, dishonest businesses, and an economic system that makes it difficult for the person to whom land is returned to benefit from it or even keep it’.
He says that such perspective thinking might therefore remind each and all of us of our responsibilities.
“As neither land claimants nor substantial landholders under threat, we may be happy to sit on the side lines of the land reform debate when in fact we are in a privileged position to help move the conversation forward. We can do so with another skill of exceptional problem solvers: that of constructing bridging principles, or the power of AND.”
He argues that at every available juncture, “we can be impatient with the failure to implement the land reform envisioned by our Constitution – AND be advocates for land reform that addresses the broadest possible array of social and economic interests.”
“We can insist that the interests of the poor, vulnerable, and dispossessed in land restitution and land distribution be put first – AND readily agree that we must have answers for those whose lives and businesses will be inevitably be disrupted.”
“We can state that no one should be asked to compromise their rights, values, or dreams around land reform or any other issue in a constitutional democracy – AND point out that endless posturing without reference to Constitutional principles or viable and just solutions is making the situation worse rather than better.”
He says that such perspective-taking and bridging principles had proven in other conflicts to provide a starting point for transforming hearts, minds, and civic discourse. “No less is required to move forward land reform, and the country.”
Standard Chartered Bank’s Chief Economist for Africa and Middle East, Ms. Razia Khan, has projected a three per cent economic growth for Nigeria in 2020.
Khan, also projected that for the first time the Sub Saharan Africa (SSA) would witness accelerated growth even as the global growth was predicted to decelerate. She also said that SSA growth would be powered by Nigeria and South Africa’s economies.
She said this during her presentation of Nigeria’s 2020 economic outlook, held in Lagos, yesterday.
Khan’s projected economic growth for Nigeria was slightly above the 2.9 percent growth rate President Mohammadu Buhari proposed in the 2020 budget.
According to her, “2020 is a year we might see SSA economies growing faster in the face of slowing global economy. Growth in the SSA will be driven by the two largest economies in Africa, namely Nigeria and South Africa.”
She predicted that oil price stability and increased crude oil production would power Nigeria’s economic growth 2020.
“We have positive view on Nigeria’s growth because of developments in the fiscal and monetary sectors that will drive more expansion in the Nigerian economy. We have not lowered our Nigeria’s GDP and oil price projection.”
One of the monetary policy stance of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) that would bolster the economy in 2020, according to Khan, was the push for increased private sector lending, which has since unlocked N2 trillion in to the economy.
She also noted that the return of Nigeria’s budget cycle to January-December and early implementation of the fiscal policy tool would enhance the execution of capital projects.
“The difference in 2020 is that Nigeria has reverted to normal budget cycle as early implementation of capital projects will add stimulus to the economy.”
Other developments she identified that would encourage economic growth in 2020 were the enactments of Petroleum Sharing Contract Act of 2019 and the Finance Act 2019 that increased the Value Added Tax by 50 per cent, from five to 7.5 per cent.
However, Khan warned that the ability to ensure compliance to the above legislations would be where the challenge lies for the federal government, adding that previous VAT collection did not meet government’s projected revenue earning from it.
The Standard Chartered Bank’s chief economist also warned Nigeria to do away with the its age-long sharing of oil revenue every month during FAAC, and focus on diversifying the economy so as to earn more revenue from other sources.
She also noted that Nigeria’s problem was not high debt burden, but low revenue mobilisation.
She also projected that a prolonged case of the coronavirus would affect demand for oil and might add pressure on Nigeria’s foreign exchange market.
She, however, noted that the expectation of better GDP performance in 2020 would also depend on return of positive momentum capable of building confidence and attracting private sector investments to make Nigeria economy grow by offering them higher rate on return.
The launch of the Africa Scotland Business Network in November 2019 highlighted one thing – there’s a great deal of positivity about South Africa’s business prospects. The Scots certainly think so.
According to Wesgro, the official tourism, trade and investment promotion agency for Cape Town and the Western Cape, 13 foreign direct investment (FDI) projects were recorded from South Africa to Scotland (in the period January 2003 and June 2019). These represented a total capex value of £40.40 million, and 529 Jobs.
Over the same period, there were 16 FDI projects recorded from Scotland to South Africa worth £164.96 million creating 1,024 jobs. The same period also saw 3 FDI projects being recorded into the Western Cape from Scotland, representing a total capex value of £66.62 million, creating 196 Jobs. One project worth £10.60 million was recorded from the Western Cape to Scotland creating 20 Jobs.
To support this burgeoning trade relationship, business partner duo Claire Alexander, a Scottish entrepreneur living in South Africa, and Nicola Probyn, a local South African, collaborated with the Scottish Government to launch the Africa Scotland Business Network (ASBN), to support, educate and provide opportunities for businesses from both nations.
Alexander and Probyn put together a board with a mix of dynamic Scottish and African business people and then pitched their idea to start an Africa Scottish business network to the Scottish government.
In July 2019, they were given the thumbs-up and all-important funding from Scotland, which they augmented with their own investment and a sponsorship secured from Craig International - a Scottish oil and gas service who recently set up their Africa Head Office head of Africa in Cape Town.
Steven Craig, director of Africa at Craig International, says that he is hoping to support Scottish companies looking to do more business in Africa, as well as South African companies wanting to invest in Scotland. “We’ve got expertise in a lot of different industries, so we’re confident that we can hopefully increase trade and employment.”
Stephanie McDonald, a Scottish global infrastructure lawyer, has come on board as a non-executive director. “There is so much opportunity here. The Scottish government is very focused on trade relations with Europe, China, India and the United States, but has little coverage in Africa.”
McDonald adds that, other than a focus on oil and gas in West Africa, there is a huge opportunity gap. “From a risk profile point of view, Africa can be a difficult place to do business. So, understandably, there has been limited attention and focus from Scotland.”
Having identified the gap, she says, the founders of ASBN came together in the hopes of fostering closer collaboration between business, networks and government organisations.
“As a network, we’ve started the wheel turning to attract investment into South Africa from Scotland, and vice versa.”
Since the network’s launch in Cape Town during Africa Oil and Gas Week in November, it has grown organically to a membership of 86 and counting.
In collaboration with the Scottish government, ASBN is assisting a Scottish-owned training business expand operations in Cape Town, to train and upskill a local labour force for the oil and gas industry. Currently, Africa is spending huge amounts on foreign expertise to service such industries.
Through direct engagement, ASBN is already facilitating a possible deal for a start-up food tech company; a Johannesburg based Veagent and the Pineapple Growers Association to export fruit to Scotland. In addition to business ventures, ASBN is liaising with a global Scottish charity, looking to increase its footprint in South Africa.
“This is all within two weeks of launching, which is extremely exciting and promising. Our aim is to have 200 businesses on board in our marketplace by the end of 2020,” says Alexander.
Wesgro is an enthusiastic supporter of the network. The organisation had already sought to bed down positive trade relations with Scotland, with a 2017 visit to Edinburgh with now Premier Alan Winde to discuss ongoing collaboration and opportunities between the two nations. Wesgro and ASBN are currently working on a possible trade delegation to Scotland in the first half of 2020.
Alexander believes that there is a great deal of synergy between the economies of Scotland and Africa, They are both strong in technology, renewable energy, agriculture and agri-tech, food and beverages, manufacturing and education.
As Scotland is a global leader in renewable energy, with targets to be carbon neutral by 2050, and is already a net producer of clean energy, many nations are turning to Scotland for expertise. This is one of the industries that Alexander believes is ripe for collaboration.
“The network also has a mission to ensure skills transfer and is investigating opportunities for Scottish universities to provide bursaries for disadvantaged students from South Africa. At the same time, it is collaborating with the Scotland Africa Business Association in Edinburgh to help us match African businesses to commercial opportunities in Scotland,” she adds.
The union of Scotland and South Africa appears to have great potential, as early interest and deals are already indicating. It is likely that the organisation will go from strength to strength, creating international trade, as well as knowledge and skills sharing opportunities for both nations.
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has announced plans to reduce his administration’s fiscal distress, with a decision to cut thousands of telecommunications jobs.
Indirectly employed by the government through one of its many state-owned enterprises (SOEs), cutting 3,000 jobs represents the beginning of promised steps to return South Africa to economic sustainability.
Two decades ago, Telkom, South Africa’s state-owned giant, was the largest by infrastructure development and most sophisticated on the continent.
Like power-producer Eskom and many others, Telkom is a shadow of its former self and struggling to make ends meet.
The cause has been a combination of prescribed “black economic empowerment” through the deliberate preference for formerly disadvantaged people and of the ruling African National Congress’ (ANC) leftist policy of cadre deployment.
Often these two processes have overlapped but they have meant that highly skilled people have had to give way to replacements.
While a fair number of such appointments have worked out, many have not.
This has affected national, provincial and local governance — and is one of the reasons there has been mounting unhappiness in communities lacking basic services, leading to protests.
In the vital SOEs, which dominate the economy and which are effective monopolies, the governance failure and accompanying corruption have run rampant and caused collapses or near-collapses requiring state bailouts.
But there is no more money for such bailouts and South Africa cannot borrow any more without the entire sovereign debt of the country falling into ‘junk’ status.
In an address to the ANC rank and file last weekend, Ramaphosa made it plain that in providing service directly or indirectly through employment in SOEs, accountability would be the watch word.
According to international ratings like the World Bank and IMF, the government and its SOEs are around 10-15 per cent overstaffed.
However, Ramaphosa’s union allies hate the idea of retrenchment.
Combined with residual elements involved in former president Jacob Zuma’s “state capture” project of looting, the unions say they will not let Ramaphosa do what he must.
They are trying, through the Congress of South African Trade Unions, to halt any retrenchments. They also want Eskom removed from SOE minister Pravin Gordhan’s control.
However, the unions have the recent experience of South African Airways (SAA) to consider.
Strike action by ANC-aligned unions grounded planes for days — long enough to win the pay increase the unions were demanding, but also to throw the broke airline into a terminal crisis.
SAA is in business rescue at Ramaphosa’s insistence. With a deadline this weekend for it to find $139 million to remain operational, the airline may be liquidated.
If so, thousands of jobs will be lost, rather than perhaps hundreds if rescued.
The unions, having won the battle for an increase, pushed the airline to the edge and may have lost the war in terms of jobs.
SOUL OF ANC
At the core of ANC’s internal disputes about what to do to rescue the economy are divergent views.
The issue lies between the business-friendly lobby in ANC led by Ramaphosa, and those inclined to a hardline socialist agenda.
The result is a war over jobs which has become the proxy battlefield for the real struggle under way, being that for the heart and soul of the ANC — and therefore of the future of South Africa.
This week, Gwede Mantashe — once a leading unionist and currently ANC chairman and a minister — has been saying things directly contrary to Ramaphosa about getting South Africa out of the power-generation crisis.
The country is broke and faces costly ratings downgrades if it does not cut government jobs.
Consequently, Ramaphosa and his team are acting. Some 129 cases related to corruption have emerged from Eskom alone, and have gone for prosecution.
More than 1,000 internal disciplinary cases are in the process within the power producer.
The question is whether Ramaphosa can do enough against the backdrop of a weakening global economy to prevent a meltdown.
And then there is a crucial local government election a little more than a year out.
How the struggle for power and for control over ANC — and therefore over South Africa’s destiny — plays out will tell if the country becomes a failed state or emerges as a shining example of a modern developing nation, as Ramaphosa promised.
On the eve of the statement marking the 108th birthday of the governing African National Congress (ANC), South Africa’s finance minister Tito Mboweni tweeted:
If you cannot effect deep structural economic reforms, then game over! Stay as you are and you are downgraded to Junk Status! The consequences are dire. Your choice…
Similar sentiments have been voiced by many well respected commentators concerned about the state of South Africa’s economy as well as its politics – and the ability of the ANC to provide effective leadership to address the major challenges it faces.
South Africa faces perhaps many more challenges than it did in the build up to the new constitution of 1994. These include a moribund economy and a governing party that is faction-ridden and ideologically disorientated. This is blamed for enabling much of the massive corruption and nepotism in the country best described as “state capture”.
What South Africa needs is a reformer who can redirect its politics to address issues related to economic growth and development, political stability, social cohesion, service delivery and several issues related to governance, management and administration.
It should all start with President Cyril Ramaphosa and the ANC, which he leads. He had the opportunity to set the tone this weekend when he delivered the ANC national executive committee’s January 8 statement to mark the party’s birthday. Such statements are viewed as being important because they provide direction for cabinet discussions ahead of the new legislative sitting of parliament as well as the state of the nation address delivered in February every year by the President.
Ramaphosa was expected to lay out the political direction for South Africa during 2020. Unfortunately, his speech failed to hit the mark. It didn’t offer any radical new ideas on the structural reforms hinted at by Mboweni. Ramaphosa showed a complete lack of party as well as political leadership. His inability to be bold and decisive about what needs to be done suggests that he is increasingly becoming a victim of his own party’s inability to deal with the difficult circumstances of the current negative state of affairs in the country.
What was missing
There was nothing new in the speech outside of the existing policy and strategy of the ANC. The core of his presentation were the usual talking points about rebuilding the state, reinforcing the state-owned enterprises, the battle against corruption and state capture, social cohesion, and economic growth and development.
Despite an emphasis on making state companies, specifically the power utility Eskom work, and making progress with land reform, no fresh proposals were made. More rhetoric, a lack of strategic vision and political survival at all costs seems to be the name of the game.
This is a far cry from what’s needed.
Even more difficult times lie ahead for Ramaphosa. His promise that this year will see decisive action against those implicated in widespread corruption – among them influential party leaders – will no doubt add to his precarious position in the party.
The ANC’s 108th birthday bash provided fresh evidence that Ramaphosa faces a very difficult political environment in the party. There were expectations that about 35 000 people would turn up. In the event only 11 500 arrived to hear him deliver his speech. Some party leaders bemoaned the poor attendance.
This shows that, beyond any doubt, 2020 is going to be dominated by the battle for control of the ANC. That battle will gain a lot of momentum towards the party’s national general conference which is due to be held in the middle of this year. The national general conference is held midway between party conferences, to debate the “strategic organisational and political issues facing the movement”.
There are already those who are already beginning to shows signs of mounting a challenge against him. These include those implicated in state capture, among them ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule, as well as other disgruntled members of the ANC presenting themselves as a “coalition of the wounded”.
The outcome of this battle will have far reaching implications for the future for South Africa, and its ability to deal with its numerous challenges.
Decisive year ahead
The year ahead promises to be a very difficult but also a very decisive year for South Africa. Is Ramaphosa the man to take the country into a new dawn, or is he going to be the victim of a well-organised campaign to disrupt his intended initiatives?
This year will provide the perspective on the way forward. If strong forces within the ANC get their way, someone other than Ramaphosa will present the January 8 statement in 2021.
For ordinary South Africans, this presents a very difficult scenario, with the strong possibility that the economy will slide into recession.
This, plus amending article 25 of the constitution to enable the expropriation of land without compensation, will result in even lower investment levels, higher levels of political instability and bigger challenges in terms of food security.
This does does not augur well for the future of the country and the well-being of its citizens.
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed on Sunday said he has asked South African President Cyril Ramaphosa to intervene in an ongoing dispute with Egypt and Sudan over Ethiopia's Renaissance Dam.
The filling of the dam has been a source of tension between the Nile countries. Egypt and Sudan argue that Ethiopia has not provided sufficient guarantees to their water supply, which is highly dependent on the Nile River.
All three countries were expected to have finished negotiations ahead of signing a deal later this week. But negotiators say significant issues remain.
"As (Ramaphosa) is a good friend for both Ethiopia and Egypt and also as incoming AU chair, he can make a discussion between both parties to solve the issue peacefully," Abiy said at a press conference in the South African capital Pretoria.
'A solution can be found'
For his part, Ramaphosa said he had accepted the task and that he had already reached out to Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi.
"The Nile River is important to both countries and there must be a way in which both their interests can be addressed," said Ramaphosa. "There must be a way in which a solution can be found."
Concerns over the Renaissance Dam on the Blue Nile, one of the main sources of the Nile River, have dogged relations between the African nations for years. At times, Egyptian officials have threatened military action against the dam, including airstrikes, saying its existence poses an existential risk to Egypt.
For Ethiopia though, the dam is a much-needed source of power to energize what has become one of Africa's fastest growing economies.
Ethiopia and South Africa also signed several trade agreements spanning health, tourism and telecommunications industries during Abiy's visit.
South Africa’s Massmart Holdings, majority owned by U.S. retail giant Walmart , said on Monday it was in consultations with unions and other stakeholders to close up to 34 stores, which could lead to up to 1,440 job losses.
The potential closures are the result of a “store optimisation project that highlighted a number of underperforming stores”, Massmart, which swung to its first half-year trading loss in two decades last year, said in a statement.
Being darker makes being a migrant much harder
South Africa is becoming infamous on the world stage for its violent, even deadly, xenophobia. Attacks periodically erupt. Often the targets are African foreign nationals as well as Bangladeshis and Pakistanis.
Similarly, in India, xenophobic sentiment is aimed at Bangladeshis, Pakistanis and African migrants, some of whom have even lost their lives.
Yet, in my research on migration to India and South Africa, I found that migrants’ experiences vary greatly: while many experienced xenophobia, many did not. In fact, there were migrants in both societies who were warmly received and enjoyed xenophilia – the love of foreigners.
The aim of my research was to try to find out why some foreigners are welcomed with open arms while others are denigrated, or even murdered.
I found that socio-economic status was extremely significant. Two additional characteristics also determined what daily life in a new country was like for a person: their skin colour and their country of origin. Local people assign values to these characteristics.
Wealthier, lighter-skinned migrants were often the most warmly greeted, especially those from “developed” countries with “First World cultural capital”.
In a skewed, unequal global economy, it is important to understand how the experiences of white or light-skinned migrants compare to darker-skinned migrants. This comparison enables an analysis of how prejudice and privilege affect daily life.
In South Africa, as in India, whiteness or lightness often denotes power and prestige. There are many stereotypes associated with skin colour. For example, the label “yellow-bone” is often used in South Africa as a compliment to women with light brown skin. The term is associated with US slavery.
In South Africa, dark skin is often used as a way to identify foreigners during xenophobic attacks. (Stereotype holds that South Africans are “light” but this is not true as they can have any skin tone.) In India, dark skin is often associated with poverty, partially due to the hierarchichal caste system.
When a migrant enters the new society, the local population tends to “read” the migrant’s skin tone and then assign it positive or negative associations. Thus to understand the migrant experience, we must understand these associations and stereotypes.
Skin colour dictates what opportunities and challenges occur in a migrant’s daily life.
For example, previous research found that darker-skinned migrants to the US received significantly lower wages than migrants with the same qualifications who had fairer complexions.
My research, which involved collecting data through interviews, focused on middle-class professionals who had left more industrialised countries such as Japan, South Korea and those in the West to live in industrialising countries like India and South Africa.
In India, white men told me how their white privilege enabled them to get ahead in their business and social lives. For their part, dark-skinned African migrants told me that they were sometimes called derogatory names like “monkey.”
In South Africa, racial hierarchies affected the experiences of migrants. An American woman living in Johannesburg explained to me that being Caucausian in a highly-racialised South Africa where white people wielded a great deal of economic power afforded her a lot of clout.
If anything, I think I’m surprised by how often as a white American, people are still afraid to confront or challenge me in some way. I think there are times in which probably the colour of my skin gives me power in their eyes…
But white privilege and prejudice against dark skin are not just about a migrant’s skin colour. The reception of a migrant is also related to local attitudes about the migrant’s country of origin.
Developed country advantage
People in “emerging markets” like South Africa and India view migrants from more “developed” nations as adding value because they see them as a benefit to their own country’s development.
This belief is based on the perceived relative difference in “modernity” and “developmental” levels between different countries.
For example, in South Africa and India, the local populations tended to view their economic development as more “advanced” than that of countries like Zimbabwe or Nigeria.
Hence when South Africans and Indians encounter African migrants they associate them with the negative stereotype of being from less “developed” countries.
The inverse perception becomes a benefit for migrants from “First World” countries. Researchers in international politics illustrate how “status attribution” benefits powerful countries because their perceived status gives them even more power. This is true for migrants from powerful countries too.
Many of the middle-class professionals I studied were actually economic migrants seeking out better opportunities by moving to “developing” countries. But they were not perceived in the same way as economic migrants from poorer countries because of the admiration local people had for their country of origin.
A white American man who moved from New York to Johannesburg told me that South Africans would ask him: “Why would you choose to be here as opposed to the USA … I think the States in general, Europe in general, people look up to it.”
A white Dutch woman who had moved to Cape Town told me, “Many people think of Europe as this wonderful place of opportunity and of education … I think that’s why many people are quite open to having me.”
Developed-country advantage is not only enjoyed by white migrants. I found that skin colour, like gender, was a dependent variable that was interpreted in relation to other factors. African American, black British, and Afro-German migrants I interviewed in South Africa also reported experiencing the developed country advantage.
When a migrant benefits from positive stereotypes of being wealthier, fairer or coming from a “developed” country, xenophilia can result. The converse is that being perceived as darker, poorer and coming from an “inferior” country can factor into xenophobia.
South Africa has significantly more financial crime than most other countries. With a rate of 77% compared to a global average of 49%, SA is something of a hotbed for fraud and scams.
As consumers and insurance-seekers we need to understand the risks of economic crime and how to avoid becoming a victim, the risks of committing insurance fraud and how to avoid being inadvertent perpetrators of fraud ourselves, by for example, omitting information in an insurance application
Herman Lombard, Founder and Executive Director of financial services provider African Unity, explains that an intentionally fraudulent claim could result in cancellation of the policy as well as a negative reputation with the insurer and the industry in general.
“Consumer fraud is the second highest ranking category of reported economic crime in the country and life insurance fraud in particular has seen a recent spike, which means insurance companies are being increasingly thorough and vigilant”.
Multiple retrenchment applications from the same employer; natural death suspiciously soon after the commencement of a life-policy; and opportunistic life policies taken against the imminent death of casual church or work acquaintances are some of the most common insurance scams perpetrated by consumers.
Companies however are rising to the challenges of intensified scam activity, becoming more self-aware and able to identify and correct their own vulnerabilities.
Lombard explains that the best way to avoid the pitfall of unintentionally committing fraud yourself is to ‘overshare’ and disclose absolutely everything in your insurance applications, even if you’re uncertain of its relevance. “The rule of thumb is to rather share too much than too little and risk future payouts,” he says.
As many South Africans know only too well, there are many insurance sales fraudsters who be able to victimise even the savviest consumer. One of the most common is linked to funeral cover where the victim is led to believe they have bought funeral cover and pay over their monthly premiums in good faith. These ‘policies’ are often sold face-to-face, and the premiums collected in cash. It’s very often only when a loved one passes away and the funds are needed to cover funeral costs that the ‘policy-holder’ will discover that they don’t have the cover they thought they had.
Lombard advises that when buying insurance, consumers must ensure that they know which insurance company will be responsible for paying out the claims and must ensure that it is a reputable organisation. He adds that customers must also insist on seeing the policy document before handing over any money.
But economic fraud doesn’t stop there.
The internet and social media have provided a whole new world of potential scams to fraudsters. Digital banking fraud has increased dramatically and in 2018 amounted to a staggering R262 million in gross losses in South Africa.
Lombard explains that the most common digital banking frauds are unauthorised SIM swaps while you’re on your banking app, or voice phishing or ‘vishing’ where a fraudster persuades you over the phone to divulge confidential information related to your bank account, like your one-time password (OTP).
People who live alone should remain especially wary as research shows this group is particularly susceptible to scammers and fraudsters, having no one else around to potentially warn or intervene. There appears to be a strong correlation between social isolation and becoming a victim of fraud. Financial illiteracy, as well as financial desperation play a significant role.
Experts warn that social-media based scams are also highly prevalent and effective in duping victims, far more than their veteran telephone- and email- based counterparts. “Don’t let your guard down and try to ensure the authenticity of each and every communication you receive.” says Lombard.
“Prior knowledge of how a scam works enables consumers to detect red flags and dissociate before they even begin to engage with scammers”, says Lombard.
Some of the most common types of online scams to watch out for in SA are:
Fake Facebook Giveaway – Scammers lure victims with promises of outrageously generous prizes, only to ‘phish’ the personal and financial details of those naïve enough to engage. These scams usually attempt to mimic a popular brand or celebrity page, as such your first line of defence is to ensure you are dealing with a Facebook-verified company page.
CNP (Card not Present) Fraud – This very common fraud involves illegitimate online purchases without the use of a physical card or the cardholder’s permission. The card details are usually acquired via data breaches, malware or phishing. Be cautious with your credit cards and only shop at reputable online stores. Watch your statements, and obviously never give out credit card details in your emails.
Advance-Fee Scam – this involves being offered a vast sum of money for a seemingly legitimate reason, on condition that a small administrative fee is deposited and / or bank details furnished. Often the ruse is successful because scammers pose as financial service providers offering personal loans. Always check whether an alleged financial services provider has a genuine official website. Spelling and grammatical errors are a major red flag. And remember that a real registered credit provider would never ask for money upfront in order to confirm a loan.
WhatsApp Scams – Similar to the Facebook scams, these work by virally spreading links that appear to be from either an above-board business or WhatsApp itself. Clicking on the links allow fraudsters to infiltrate your device with malware. Be very wary of any WhatsApp messages which offer prizes or discounts and which requires to be spread among your contacts.
“There are many types of scams which are designed to steal the things that you hold dear, like your identity and your hard-earned cash. If you have been scammed it’s important that you report it and that you talk about it to your friends and family so that they don’t fall victim to the many unscrupulous crooks out there,” concludes Lombard.