Matthew Lester has a light pen. And a way of teaching us about his speciality – tax – by working lessons through seemingly unrelated stories. This piece brought back a holiday at Zinkwazi Beach where I fell asleep in the noonday sun and spent the rest of the trip in the sauna we called a tent, on my stomach waiting for blisters to pop. A trip to the KZN coast and a roasting on the beach was obligatory for the middle class in those days before anyone seemed to know about skin cancer. Judging by the condition of those fun spots of yore (especially down the South Coast), the trek is becoming less popular every year. Matthew explains why in yet another wonderful contribution. – AH
By Matthew Lester
There’s nothing new about the nag factor and annual Christmas holidays. Fifty years ago Jeremy Taylor sang…
Ag, pleeez Daddy won’t you take us off to Durban
Its only eight hours in your Chevrolet
There’s spans of sea and sun and sand
And fish in an aquarium
That’s a lekker place for a holiday…..
We could spend a wonderful evening giving Jeremy Taylor’s words a makeover. But we don’t stop to use these old lines to measure the extent of change in holiday habits. Let alone the knock-on effects.
Years ago Dad loaded up the family station wagon and set forth on a month long holiday at the coast. The trip to the coast was hell in summer, but when Dad got there it was worth it. He left the kids to unpack the car and headed off to join the local drunks and weirdos at the pub. It really was a holiday tradition of ‘dronk word, kak praat en rondvok.’ Meanwhile the kids went to the beach. After a month everyone was saturated and looking forward to going back home.
For starters the month-long holiday is dead. At least half of today’s annual leave has to be saved for the mid-year overseas trip. So the Christmas expedition is much shorter. Perhaps two weeks. Some say the real season only lasts from Boxing Day to New Year.
Fifty years ago KZN was RSA’s premier destination. Half the distance of today’s preferred destinations in the Cape. Fuel was cheap. You may have had an encounter with ‘Gatsometer Gert.’ But there were no cameras on every bend or toll roads every half-hour. Today if you get it wrong these can easily double the fuel bill.
The roads were also safer back then.
The RSA summer holidays used to be financed with the 13th cheque that was a part of general employment practice. Few employers stick to this practice today. So it all goes on the credit card to pay off next year. Along with the back-to-school bill.
So today Dad sets off with son in the advance party in the 4X4. He gets to the Cape and unpacks. But the holiday hasn’t started yet. Then he’s off to the airport to collect Mom and daughter. Or other family members plus enough holiday Klingons to impress Commander Spock.
Fifty years ago few families owned their coastal property. Today, with the family settled Dad has to fulfill the definition of a ‘coastal property owner’ – he who spends his holiday time fighting in a hardware store. The ‘Honey-do’ list after a year of ware and tare, rot and rust on a coastal home is formidable.
And don’t think Dad can join the local morons at the pub. He has to get fit for the Argus Bike race in March. So the day starts with a 50 kilometer opvok just to get out of the house and away from the Honey-do list.
Dad cannot exactly afford a trendy new super push-bike. Fortunately there is now a financial services company that will finance it over three years. Otherwise he would be confined to barracks, stone sober, waiting for a call to cart the kids from one pissup to the next. Generation Y has graduated from ice-creams to shooters. Then add the power of social media and some kids never make it to the beach in the course of a holiday.
As the Christmas season gets shorter the shops at the coast are failing at an alarming rate. Those that remain cannot cope with the Christmas rush. Neither can the local infrastructure. And talk about last year’s stock at next year’s prices. Mom quickly gets grumpy at the prospect of cooking for an extended family plus Klingons.
And so they struggle on until the New Year rockets go up. Then its get Mom and daughter back to the plane and hit the road in time to get back to the comparative safety of the office by the first Monday after New Year.
It is hardly surprising that January sees the start of more divorce cases than any other month. And the crisis help lines are also at their busiest.
Many South Africans have already said ‘ stuff this for a lark.’ So the dregs of Johannesburg Christmas parties are becoming more and more popular. Those that can afford it are finding that the true cost is similar if the family went to Mauritius on an all-in package. With no cooking for Mom, no Klingons and no milage on the car. They’ve got a point.
Some coastal businesses say the numbers of South Africans still embarking on a local summer holiday has not declined. But they are certainly not growing. Few deny that the holiday maker’s spend is declining.
The long-term outlook for coastal towns of South Africa is very worrying. The season on which they were built and are so dependent is declining, fewer are retiring to the coast and foreign tourism has evaporated.
Declining property prices and estate agents grumbles are not the primary concern. What is going to happen to the millions of South Africans living in the less privileged communities adjoining and dependent on the coastal towns? Yes, many have been given a house, a loo and water. But where is the job?
What future is there for a 19 year old with a stuffed education and a time expired child grant?
Many taxpayers are against a basic income grant for all South Africans. I disagree. With a few tweaks to the tax system, particularly VAT, we could afford to do something for those unemployed between 19 and 65 who currently get nothing unless they are disabled or a military veteran. And we could do a whole lot more if we could contain wasteful government expenditure.
Two-thirds of South Africa’s taxes come from Gauteng and Western Cape yet they have one-third of the population. The problem could be solved if we gave KZN back to the British or made it a province of Mozambique. But that’s not going to happen.
If we remember the civil unrest that followed the Soweto uprising or the Hani’s murder, I doubt if the authorities could contain a similar situation today. After Marikana we cannot say that a spark cannot happen again.
We are sitting on a time bomb that the provision of basic housing and water is not going to solve. Those who don’t live in the Western Cape or Gauteng can’t eat scenery!
Article by: Matthew Lester.
Article Source:BIZ News