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Diamonds And Dust: 29 - Paying My Taxes

Malcolm Bertoni goes drinking with his taxman.

To read earlier chapters of Malcolm's vivid account of diamond mining in Namibia please visit http://www.openwriting.com/archives/diamonds_and_dust/

To obtain a copy of his book click on http://www.equilibriumbooks.com/diamonds.htm

Because the tax system in South West Africa was not PAYE at the time, we had to do our taxes every year, send in the forms and then pay whatever taxes were due. The tax rates were much lower than in South Africa and we didnít mind the system at all.

One year I went to Etosha Pan, a big game park in the north of Namibia and on the way back stopped in Windhoek for a few days, before catching the flight back to Alexander Bay. So I decided to go to the tax office and do my tax form and make any necessary payment all in one go so that it was all done.

I phoned the tax office and got onto a guy whose name I forget, and made an appointment for 11.00 am. The time is important as you will soon see.

I turn up at the appointed time and meet the guy, who seems like a good bloke. We go to his office and I give him all my tax forms, group certificates and all the papers that I need. We spend 30 minutes working out everything, and he finally gives me the figure that I need to pay.

I head down to the bank to get a bank cheque, give it to the cashier at the tax office and get a receipt. I go back to the guy and he makes a note of the receipt for his record and itís all done.

He looks at his watch. It was 5 minutes to 12.

ďWell its lunch time. Care for some lunch? I know a place that stays open where we can get a good meal.Ē

What I had forgotten was that Windhoek, like towns in Germany, closed for lunch between 12.00 and 1.00 pm. So all the businesses, banks, government departments and so forth were closed and no business could be done. Everyone then went and had a meal or relaxed out on the public lawns and parks.

So this guy invites me to come to lunch with him and I accept. We end up going to a restaurant that he knows and is close by.

This crazy bastard then proceeds to order round after round of a popular German gin, called Steinhager. It comes in an earthenware bottle, which must be because the bloody stuff would probably melt ordinary glass. It must be at least 110% proof and they should put a warning label on the bottle: ĎNot fit for human consumptioní. Itís undrinkable.

So like a good chap, and not wanting to offend my host, I drink the stuff. Fortunately itís clear like water, except if you brought a match near it, it would explode with a force stronger than dynamite. So I sneakily manage to chuck some under the table when my friendly taxman is not looking and top the glass with water. I dare not look under the table as Iím sure the floor was being eaten away by the stuff.

This goes on for the whole of lunch. Iím praying that we get to 1.00 pm in one piece, even though Iím enjoying the eisbein and sauerkraut meal.

My new friend then proceeds to tell me that he only has to get back to the office at 1.30 pm, and I mentally groan. Shit. Another 30 minutes of hell.

He continues to ply me with Steinhager even though I protest. Soon there are three, or is it six, small glasses standing in a row in front of my plate. I canít really tell as I seem to be having trouble with my eyes. The more we eat and drink, the merrier my friendly taxman gets. I try and enjoy myself Ė I donít want to be rude to the guy.

Eventually lunch finishes and we walk back to his office and bid each other goodbye. He seems unaffected by the heavy meal and strong alcohol and heads back to his office.

I hate to admit it, but I was a mess. My head was buzzing and my legs wouldnít behave themselves, not going where I wanted them to. Somehow I managed to stagger back to my hotel, which fortunately was only two or three blocks away. I donít know what the concierge thought when I got to the hotel and slumped in the corner of the lift as I headed up to my room.

I flopped down on the bed and tried to stop the room from spinning. I figured if I closed one eye it would help. No go. The spinning was making me nauseous so I got up and it was a lot better. In the end I had to sit sleeping up in a chair so that my head would stay in one place and not circle the room. Now I knew what it was to be drunk and it was not a pleasant feeling. I eventually fell asleep.

I woke up in the middle of the night with a raging thirst and a pounding headache. Fortunately I had some headache tablets and took two with three or four glasses of water. As least the spinning had stopped and I could get to bed.

The next morning I was a bit better but still felt like I had been jumped on by a herd of elephants. I was aching all over and felt weak and shaky. Was this what a hangover was? Luckily my flight to Alexander Bay was only just before midday so I could relax; which I did.

I vowed never again. Next time Iíd do my tax via mail.

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