Fiscal Histories of Sub-Saharan Africa: the Case of South Africa

Thatshisiwe Ndlovu, Public Affairs Research Institute 
Working Paper Series: No.2, July 2017


The history of taxation in South Africa was shaped by the complex relations between the native Africans and colonial settlers. Drawing on the political community model of tax state development, I account for the trajectory of taxation by closely examining how racial identities influenced the political calculations and strategies pertaining to taxation. Taxation fulfilled more than merely an economic role, it had important administrative, disciplinary and political functions in the context of white minority rule. The historical links between taxation and deep rooted forms of racial control informed post-apartheid efforts to reshape taxation into a more equitable system.

The formation of subjects and citizens through British colonial rule, I argue, forms one of the over-arching frameworks of analysis in tracing the origins of taxation in South Africa. A careful analysis of this history cracks open some of the glaring gaps that characterise the existing narrative/scholarship on taxation in South Africa. This paper therefore offers a historically grounded analysis of the social and political dynamics that revolved around taxation, tracing its origins as a colonial construct, through the apartheid era and into the democratic era.