BEFORE I embarked on a business trip to London in 1992, my son, Jonathan, who was 13 at the time, warned me not to return home without England and Tottenham Hotspur (“Spurs”) striker Gary Lineker’s autograph. Fortunately, Spurs were scheduled to play the Dutch team  Feyenoord  while I was there, in what was then the Uefa Cup Winner’s Cup, and knowing someone whose father lived next door to winger Paul Walsh’s father, I managed to secure not only a ticket for the game and access, after the match, to the players’ lounge. 

I got Lineker to sign a programme and chatted at length to Walsh about launching a store in Johannesburg to sell official replica kit and other supporter clothing and accessories.

We opened Team Talk in Sandton City’s banking mall a year later. There was one major obstacle, though. Landlord Liberty Life had allocated our lease area to a sports shop, and because our merchandise did not meet its requirements we were forced to stock lower margin, capital-draining running shoes.

The shop was a great success and a lot of fun. Gary Mabbutt (England, Spurs) opened it, David Rocastle (England, Arsenal, Chelsea) was our guest a year later and legends Denis Law and George Best were among our visitors.

But the business did not come without challenges. Pilfering was a huge problem. Shoplifters would enter the store at busy times. One would distract a salesperson while an accomplice would rip security tags off clothing in a change room and stuff goods in a shopping bag. Fake soccer jerseys of inferior quality soon flooded the country, selling at flea markets at a fraction of our price and undermining the worth of our licensed products.

Worse was that larger competitors began offering popular brands of running shoes, available only through officially appointed distributors, below our cost. It was clear our rivals were supplementing their authentic stock with contraband, free of steep duties and taxes.

Team Talk was a sideline for Paul and me, and struggling to beat an inadequately controlled and supervised system wasn’t part of the script. Consumers search for low prices, not honour and virtue.  We eventually closed the store with not too much profit, but with experience and concerns for the future of righteous small-business owners.

I am already fed up with the high level of taxes we pay — estimated at around 70c in the rand if you add VAT, petrol taxes, excise duties, e-tolls and so on to income, dividend and capital gains taxes. But I also realise we are soft targets and have little negotiating power when it comes to fighting tax increases; it’s a lot easier to collect from people who  pay rather than from those who don’t.

It seems time hasn’t allayed any of our fears. Last week, in two separate investment meetings, clients involved in furniture and textile manufacturing and distribution divulged that, if anything, the situation had deteriorated.

One bemused gentleman said during recent discussions with a textile supplier over a possible order he was asked over the phone whether he wanted an invoice, in which case the quote would be considerably higher. He reckoned containerloads of clothing and textiles were smuggled in to the country by bribing customs officials or rerouting merchandise via Lesotho, which is not subject to heavy duties. Another client said a local textile federation had expressed alarm over official import numbers from Lesotho that far exceeded the small nation’s manufacturing capabilities.

These dishonest practices are unlawful and prejudicial to small and medium-sized enterprises trying to play by the rules.

My anxieties stretch further.

Last Wednesday, Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene made the country aware of the limited resources at his disposal needed to maintain the economy’s sound foundation. While he made commitments to reduce government expenditure and tackle wastefulness, he made it clear South Africans will pay more taxes.

I am already fed up with the high level of taxes we pay — estimated at around 70c in the rand if you add VAT, petrol taxes, excise duties, e-tolls and so on to income, dividend and capital gains taxes. But I also realise we are soft targets and have little negotiating power when it comes to fighting tax increases; it’s a lot easier to collect from people who  pay rather than from those who don’t. 

So all we can do is appeal to our minister to give us some slack and make up his fiscal shortfall by turning his attention to those thousands of vagabonds who, in addition to other tax dodges, take cash under the counter, fiddle the books to avoid VAT, fund their operations by retaining PAYE deductions and bribe officials to evade customs duties.

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