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Police called in as public refuse to vacate SARS premises in protest

By Afikile Lugunya - Dec 4, 2017
Police called in as public refuse to vacate SARS premises in protest

Police were called in at the South African Reserve Services (SARS) offices in Port Elizabeth after angry members of the public refused to vacate the premises in a dispute over the branch's operating hours and service.

The branch has always been characterized by long queues that often stretch to adjacent streets as taxpayers try to sort their tax issues at the offices.

However, on Thursday last week, things came to a head when several members of the public were told to leave the premises as they would not be served.

At the entrance of the branch is a sign notifying the public of the office's working hours. It says that the SARS branch operates from 8:00 am to 16pm, but a SARS representative, who didn’t have a name tag, said that they close doors at 12:00pm, so all those still in the queue "must make a small prayer that they will be attended to".

Consequently, a section of the queue was informed that they must leave the premises and come the next day - this did not sound well for many, who said they did not understand why they were getting such treatment when they had come to do the right thing and ensure their tax responsibilities are in order.

Many decided not to leave the premises and demanded that they be served leading to tensions.

Hoping that she could still be assisted, Nosipiwo Manona, a freelance journalist, who happened to be also standing in the line, told RNEWS that waiting outside the offices is a risk she was willing to take, but the summer sun was a danger.

“We are here to make our submissions because we are taxpayers, but they are depriving us from doing the right thing,” she added.

Phatheka Jijana said that she was not happy with the service that members of the public were getting at the branch claiming that the elderly also had to wait in the long queues.

“I arrived here before 14:00 and we were informed by a man and a lady that if the clock strikes 16:00, we are not going to be attended to. There are elderly people here, who have to stand, because there’s only one chair," she described.

“I went inside to ask for a chair for an elderly lady and they told me that there’s only one chair, that is surprising because I thought that in South Africa, we are free and that elderly people don’t have to queue.”

Unfortunately, RNEWS was prohibited from taking photos inside the premises.

“I took leave at work because I knew that I had to be here, but now they are telling us this,” Jijana continued.

Another woman, who did not want to be named, added; “They are here to serve us, if it wasn’t for us, they wouldn’t even have jobs, but they are not willing to help us."

She added that it was her third time going to the SARS offices and having to leave without being attended to.

Quizzed for comment, a man, who said that he worked for SARS at the branch, tried to locate the Manager, but came back to say, the Manager was not in his office.

At around 5:33pm, the crowd was still outside the branch with the police now guarding the premises. Apparently, most of the staff at the branch had already left for home.

The crowd claimed that the Manager had called the police to forcefully remove everyone from the queue. They vowed to not leave until someone came out to address them.

However, according to Manona they waited until the guards locked the SARS premises at about 6:30pm. They had no choice but to leave as well.

Contacted for comment, SARS spokesperson, Sandile Memela, said that they aware of the challenges at the Port Elizabeth SARS branch and the revenue collector was looking into how to improve the situation.

“We try to make sure that we help everyone and if it happens that there are too many people, they have to come back the following day,” Memela said.

He apologised for what happened and reassured that an investigation will be conducted to deal with those responsible for the mistreatment of taxpayers.