Tax Resistance in Africa

Carpenters in Zimbabwe move off the books.


Black-market carpentry is booming in Zimbabwe, the Inter Press Service reports:

All right, smart guy, what do YOU think I should've used for art?

According to the Informal Woodworkers' Association, a Harare-based organisation, 18,500 people are currently engaged in informal carpentry in the capital.

"Most carpenters here shun practicing formally, evading operational costs from local and government authorities for the land and resources they use, resulting in close to 20,000 people turning to informal carpentry. Indeed it is a sharp rise from about 7,000 back in 2009," the association's chairperson, Dickson Mapuranga, tells IPS.

I found that article via Robert Neuwirth, a left-leaning journalist who writes frequently about informal markets in the Third World. Neuwirth notes that the number of people working as formal, taxpaying carpenters dropped in the same period by almost the same amount. "Conclusion: the jobs have moved off the books," he writes.

Naturally, Zimbabwe's dictatorship isn't happy to see that money go. Neuwirth comments:

An anonymous official complained to IPS that the carpentry business is so strong that the government is losing $32 million a month in unpaid taxes. But, as one sensible carpenter noted, taxation is a social contract: "Paying the government tax for our activities depends on what we also get from them. But we are getting nothing."

Well, not quite nothing. "We are harassed daily by so-called plain clothes officials from the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority," that carpenter tells IPS.

Bonus link: Our review of Neuwirth's book Shadow Cities.