15 May 2023 – LRC challenges taxes, levies and rates imposed by traditional councils in Limpopo

For Immediate Release

15 May 2023

LRC challenges taxes, levies and rates imposed by traditional councils in Limpopo

The Legal Resources Centre, on behalf of a member of seven traditional communities in Limpopo, is challenging the imposition of taxes, levies, and rates by traditional councils in the province. Nkuzi Development Trust is the twelfth applicant. The applicants are asking the court to declare that the provision in the Limpopo Traditional Authorities Act that empowers traditional councils to levy compulsory taxes on community members is unconstitutional and inconsistent with customary law.

The applicants say that, despite the widespread poverty in many traditional communities, they are required to pay annual fees and specific fees from time to time for anything from a traditional ceremony to the chief’s car. If they fail to pay, they are punished by the traditional council through the refusal to provide proof of address letters, residential stands or burial sites. The Constitution only empowers government to raise revenue through compulsory and universal taxation.

The applicants also argue that customary law has never included compulsory charges to be levied on community members. Instead, the power of taxation for traditional leaders was introduced by the colonial government and pursued by the apartheid government. The continued practice of enforcing these taxes is a purely colonial practice.

The traditional councils, the Premier of Limpopo and the MEC for Traditional Affairs and Cooperative Governance in Limpopo all oppose the relief. They are all in agreement that customary law does not allow for compulsory levies – only voluntary ones agreed to in consultation with the community. However, they insist that all the levies in Limpopo are both voluntary and the result of a community consultation. Yet they are unable to provide any evidence of these allegations.

By contrast, the applicants relate the stories of hardship caused by this practice.

Mr Ernest Boima from Modjadji village near Tzaneen was an applicant in this matter, but he sadly passed away during the litigation. His son, Martin, told the court how his family was refused a burial site for Mr Boima because he had outstanding levies, and how they were forced to borrow money to pay these taxes hastily to be able to bury their father. Mr Alfred Mafikeng was visited by the police for not paying his levies, while Ms Mamila Rose Baloyi was not able to get a proof of address letter to apply for an identity document, because she had levies outstanding.

The applicants say that these levies are not voluntary contributions, but compulsory taxes that, if unpaid, leads to sanctions. They say that these taxes are used as a tool of oppression against community members such as the applicants.

Furthermore, the applicants also request a declaration that the Limpopo Traditional Councils are illegitimate as they have failed to hold required elections for legal constitution over the past two decades.

The matter is before Deputy Judge President Semenya in the Polokwane High Court this morning.