I had planned to spend my holiday week recumbent in front of the TV, but this morning I awoke with a burning sense of purpose. Today I would register as a South African tax payer and acquire my Traffic Register Number! As it turned out, the first task would burn much more time than I had expected.
I charted my course to downtown Bellville, just a couple of miles from my office. I had attempted once before to register at the South African Revenue Service (SARS), on December 17th, but I was turned away because the facility held too many people already in line. Today I was welcomed inside, passing through the metal detector and riding the escalator up to the main floor. At the information desk, I was directed to sit in the empty waiting area for a pre-check of my documents for registration. Thirty minutes passed before the pre-checker returned from her morning tea. I approached the desk, and she poked through my documents (a six-page application, documents validating my permanent address, and bank account documentation). She pushed aside many of them as unnecessary, placed a red dot sticker on the application form, and wrote “checked” on the sticker. I returned to the information counter for my queue number and climbed the stairs to the next waiting area.
During the next forty-five minutes, I chatted with a young man from Mitchell’s Plain. When he learned I was from the United States, he was beyond excited. He told me he dreamed of visiting the U.S., and he hoped he would get to see the Statue of Liberty. He idolized Wiz Khalifa and spoke warmly of the U.S. as producing the best rappers in the world. He explained that “gangsterism” is commonplace where he grew up, and he had to back away from the gangs in his home carefully because they killed the mothers of young men who offended them.
When my number was called, I was nervous for potential reasons they might reject my application. Would they complain because I used blue ink rather than black? (I’ve seen this complaint with other agencies.) Would they reject the application because it lists Turtle House as my permanent address rather than my current, temporary one? Their inspection was quite thorough, and they ranged into the documents the pre-check had deemed unnecessary. When they encountered the formal statement from my banker attesting to the existence of my checking account, they frowned. Where was my bank statement? They seemed unimpressed that no mail is arriving due to the holiday. I volunteered to log in and print one on the spot, but that was clearly unacceptable. No, instead I must walk the “two minutes” to the Absa bank on Voortrekker Road and acquire a statement there. Then I could return and go through the queue once more. They graciously waived the requirement for the document pre-check on my return.
I trudged out of SARS with my blood boiling. I checked on my car and confirmed that I wasn’t parked in a time-limited space. I cautiously navigated the pedestrian crossing of Voortrekker and entered the bank (I did not realize that their ATMs can produce statements). After fifteen minutes in line, I reached the clerk. He ran my card, and then he looked me squarely in the eye. He told me I must not be friendly with people I encountered in this neighborhood (I had passed a few words with my neighbors in line about the boisterous minibus taxi driver outside). “Is Bellville really that bad?” I asked. “When you visit your bank, go to the Tyger Valley branch,” he replied. “When someone calls after you in the street outside, just keep walking.” With my statement in hand, I returned to SARS.
This time the wait upstairs lasted even longer. I sat quietly for an hour, though I did exchange some words with an anaesthesiologist who had graduated from the Stellenbosch University medical school. It seemed like an eternity, though, before I was called up to visit with the same clerk as before. I was relieved at that development, since I wouldn’t have to start my explanation from the beginning. She glanced over the bank statement, gave a brief nod, and began photocopying documents and typing data into electronic forms. After a while, she called a supervisor over to validate some documents. After about ten to fifteen minutes of clerical work, the clerk handed my original documents back to me along with a SARS registration certificate.
I have two things to celebrate from today. First, when taxes are withheld from my paychecks, they’ll be directed to my tax bill. Second, I now have a government-issued document certifying Turtle House as my permanent address!