SA enterprise sector critically ill

Johannes Wessels


The formal South African Enterprise Sector is critically ill. Were the company tax returns of the 768 000 companies combined and submitted as that of a single entity (say SA Amalgamated (Pty) Ltd) there would not have been any Company Income Tax (CIT) payable to SARS for three consecutive tax years.

SARS data on Company Income Tax (CIT) confirms the private sector is in a dismal state. In the tax years 2014 – 2016 assessed joint losses of all companies surpassed joint taxable income by R445 billion.

SARS data on CIT from 2007 to 2016 on assessed CIT returns bring the following to the fore (see Figure 1 below):

  • Total assessed taxable income of companies had increased over the 10 years by R248.19 billion or 52.3% to a total of R722.6 billion
  • Total assessed losses of companies had more than tripled from R236.3 billion in 2007 to R820.2 billion in 2016.
  • CIT increased by R59.92 billion to a total of R198.76 billion in 2016 (43.3% increase on 2007).

Less than 1% of firms pay 85% of CIT

To understand these figures, it is important to keep the following in mind:

  • If the CIT collected in 2007 had increased annually at the CPI inflation rate, Treasury would have received an additional R52.8 billion on top of the R198.8 billion it did receive in CIT in 2016. Assessed taxable company income and CIT lagged significantly against inflation.
  • The assessed losses for 2014 to 2016 of R2 482.2 billion form a massive debt mountain. Should the environment for SA businesses improve, the companies will first gobble up these losses before they become liable for CIT again. The pain for Treasury will therefore continue.

The only reason why Treasury still reaps income from CIT, is because a small minority firms remains profitable. These are mainly companies with a taxable income of R10 million and more. In fact, the percentage of tax-paying companies has declined from 27.9% in 2007 to 24.23% in 2016.

Only the 0.75% of the firms with taxable turnover above R100 million pay 85% of all company income tax into SARS coffers.

With 42% of the 2017 company tax returns already assessed by SARS, a fourth year of being in the red seems most likely. Consider in addition:

  • Dismal GDP growth of 0.8% in 2018.
  • The additional medication of Expropriation without Compensation being added to the anti-growth BEE treatment.
  • Electricity tariff increases double the inflation rate to finance an entity that is incapable of ensuring constant energy supply.
  • A public sector that had metamorphosed from a facilitator of services and infrastructure into a parasite not delivering proper education, proper law enforcement and reliable infrastructure.

Turnover growth since 2018 in negative terrain

Mike Schüssler of reckons that indicate that since mid 2018 the turnover growth of companies in the non-financial sector is negative when considering inflation (Figure below).

Based on Agrizzi’s evidence at the Zondo commission about bribe money, one can state that he had packed annually stacks of bribe money that exceeded the taxable income of 98% of the country’s formal enterprises.

Government appears to be totally unaware of the negative impact of its policies and poor performance on the private sector, especially the small and medium enterprises. 

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