South Africa could get a new TV licence tax next week: legal experts

Finance minister Enoch Godongwana is set to deliver his maiden budget speech on 23 February, with Treasury largely expected to stick to script. However, it could provide the government opportunity to introduce a ‘digital device tax’ for TV licences, say legal experts at ENSAfrica.

In a research note outlining its predictions ahead of the budget, the legal firm said that rapidly growing technology advancement has allowed access to television content on different devices, making the South African Broadcasting Corporation’s (SABC) TV licence model effectively obsolete.

“One way to address this would be to introduce a levy on data to collect more revenue on this,” it said.

There is already precedent for a data tax on the African continent, with Uganda announcing a 12% tax on internet data in April. Data costs in African countries are high relative to other regions, a fact blamed for slow internet penetration and limited use even for those connected, according to digital advocacy group the World Wide Web Foundation.

The SABC itself has mooted new ways to make up this revenue shortfall – including a more general levy on usage.

In a November 2021 presentation to parliament, the national broadcaster said it was considering plans to scrap the traditional TV licence model in South Africa in favour of a new public media levy.

The new levy would be device-independent and apply to all households and businesses.

It would also be based on whether South Africans can access the content, not just whether they watch it. South Africans would therefore be required to pay the levy even if they don’t watch SABC content – simply being able to access it, on any device, is enough.

The SABC’s TV licence evasion rate stood at 82.1% in 2021 – indicating that the vast majority of South Africans are not paying their licence fees.

Under current regulations, first-time applicants for a television licence must pay the full annual fee of R265. Renewals must then be made annually before the licence expires, with users given the option of paying R264 each year or R28 in monthly instalments.


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South Africa could get a new TV licence tax next week: legal experts