BLACK TAX, A PAINFUL REMINDER OR AN ACT OF NOBLENESS

According to Niq Mhlongo, author of “Black Tax a burden or Ubuntu”, the term Black Tax was coined in the year 2000. It is a term that refers to a mandatory payment borne by Black middle-class citizens in assisting the individuals that aided them in their quest for economic opportunities.

Authors have been at loggerheads regarding the use of the term “Black Tax” with one school of thought arguing that is derogatory and purports to diminish the honour that comes with assisting those that have laid a path for you. To refute, an opposing school of thought has argued that there is indeed no honour in this tax as it places an unshakable burden on newly qualified black graduates and seasoned black professionals.

To refute, authors have argued that even though the term was coined in the last 25 years, the practice has been on-going for the last 100 years. Black families who were considered “well-off” in dire circumstances were viewed as a half-way house for individuals who were in search for greener pastures in the city and had no place to live.

Given the deeply entrenched nature of Ubuntu (humanity) among black people, saying no was out of the question. This Ubuntu was something that has been passed on from generation to generation with the belief that a child raised in a community is a child of the whole community.

Economically, “Black Tax” has had better economic returns than not. Countless graduates and now income tax paying professionals who live behind high walls in Sandton have paid homage to their communities in sending them to and seeing them through university. “Black Tax” has insured that many previously disadvantaged poor to middle class graduates have jobs and successful businesses.

However, there is an ugly side of Black Tax. Bontle Sibiya in an interview of 18 individuals of Black, Coloured and Indian descent, in a paper titled “Black tax and the vulnerability of the emerging middle class” found that many of the respondents were hobbling their way to financial independence.

To add on, many black professionals have stated that they have been guilt tripped, forced and even threatened by parents and families alike when they were unable to assist financially. Furthermore, it was found that some parents were seen to have funded their gambling habits as opposed to purchasing groceries and other essentials.

What we see from the literature is that “Black Tax” means something totally different to a baby boomer than it means to a millennial. Given the fast paced, pressuring, technologically inclined, flashy and money-crazed world that we live in now, “Black Tax” will leave a bad taste in the mouth of millennials as they feel that the funds being channelled home would have been allocated towards a car, house etc. This is in direct contrast to baby boomers who lived in a time where opportunities were scarce, individuals were deeply rooted in their teachings and the quest to assist was held in high esteem.

Whilst millennials still hold assisting at home in high esteem, help is required to soften the blow. Individuals need to have open and honest conversations with family members about their financial needs regardless of how difficult the situation is. To add on, individuals need to keep an emergency fund that can be used when unforeseen expenses “creep up”. Lastly, individuals need to seek alternative money generating investments or businesses that will generate enough cash flow to absorb some of the financial burdens.

Black Tax or the politically correct term “family responsibility” is a concept that will remain with middle class, mostly black middle-class generations for decades to come. It is clear from the literature that majority of individuals feel a certain level of pride and joy to assist their families who have toiled hard for their success. There are plenty of challenges such as greedy individuals who take advantage of hard-working tax paying individuals and “guilt tripping” however, the joy that is derived from assisting far outweighs the burden.

As the famous saying goes,

Umuntu Ngumuntu Ngabantu, a person is a person through other people.

Real accounts of people with real stories of their unique encounters with Black Tax

Managing my personal goals (saving up for marriage, school, emergency funds and leisure) vs Black Tax was a challenge in the beginning. I quickly realised that to enable me to reach my personal plans I had to define my level of Black Tax.  Anything beyond what I could afford would be emotional black mail. Good financial planning allowed me to manage it well.

  • Anonymous

To me the concept of Black Tax is foreign. I do not understand how one can claim to be a victim of it. For me what I have is a result of what someone else gave. Be it their life, freedom or dreams. It is for that reason that my success cannot be my own but my peoples. Those who came before and those who shall inherit this earth. So, with that in mind, buying groceries, furniture, paying school fees etc can never be Black Tax when you understand that sometimes your destiny is simply to change isimo.

  • Thando Ndhlovu

Black Tax has been both a burden and ubuntu for me. I am the last born of 4 siblings. When I was born in 1993 my eldest sister was 15 years old, my second sister was 5 years old and my brother was only 2 years old. My brother and grew up closely, almost like twins because of our age difference. My parents were both fortunate to have jobs in the government sector, my father worked in admin for the department of labour and my mother was a nurse in the department of health. They both worked hard to secure a stale future for us all. It was not easy as like majority of black families. A little background – my dad was the most ‘financially successful’ from his family, that’s my first encounter of black tax. With the little he made, he bought his parents a house in Phiri Soweto just so they could have a home in the city of gold. His father was already in Johannesburg working, but left his family in the Eastern Cape.  He tried to take the rest of his younger siblings to school (none of them finished matric) at the same time he had to take care of my mother who had her first child at the age of 20. He helped my mother find her feet in Johannesburg as they met in school in the Eastern Cape. They lived at Phiri together with my father’s parents and siblings. Eventually, my father left the nest and bought a new house for my mother where they’d be able to build their own family.

My parents have never expected a cent from me ever since I started working. I offered them my bank card when my first salary clocked but they refused it. I have willingly done a few projects to improve the house merely as a token of appreciation for the sacrifices that they have made for us. I contribute where I can, and which is the same for my siblings. I have experienced black tax through my relationship with my close relatives, neighbours and friends. I have helped some with loans of up to R 2 000 which still have not been paid back to me. I have had to sponsor younger relatives with money for school trips, school projects, pocket money and clothes. This is because I am the closest individual that works (regardless of my expenses) in their circle. I have had to help with job applications and transport money for interviews. I help others secure their own bags.

  • Awande

Black Tax can be a burden or a blessing depending on the dynamics of the “taxman” in your family. My experience hasn’t been one of an obligatory nature but instead, a discretionary exercise I felt I ought to be doing. I have found however, that in as much as it may be taxing financially, it carries quite an abundant emotional quotient with it, which inadvertently means in certain instances it is something you feel you OUGHT to be doing or giving back to your family.

  • Sandile Xhakaza

Even though I dislike the term, to me Black Tax came as a responsibility I took upon myself without any influence, force or any said obligation. It was stimulated/prompted by the pressure of knowing that the younger need to get all that I was given and experience the same kind of life I lived and more. This was a sacrificial stance, as my dreams and aspirations had to be on hold for until there is another plan without having to take away from the younger.

There is a Zulu proverb, “Izandla ziyagezana”, meaning “one good turn deserves another”. Not forgetting, “umntu, ngumntu ngabanu”, meaning “a person is a person because of other people”. Proverbs like these are embedded in our value system as blacks and as taxing Black Tax maybe, both financially and emotionally, to me it is fundamentally taking care of your own.

  • Anonymous

First off, I will start by sharing this truth; Black Tax is a different experience when you are the last born (even though my siblings didn’t really have to care of me, but I am sure their experience differs from mine.) I think Black Tax is a practice that is at its core, the reason why some young black adults are staggering and aren’t experiencing their youth and the pleasures that come with earning. I feel like it’s an unfair practice to expect people to take on responsibilities that aren’t theirs and I’m quite lucky not to have been put in that situation. I contribute a certain amount on a monthly basis, but that was voluntary and I set it myself. I am quite defeated by people who have decided not to plan and make do with the resources they know are at their disposal, only to transfer those responsibilities onto their children and delaying them in the process.

My experience of Black Tax ( be it limited to my personal experience or those of others ) has made one thing clear and that’s the fact that we as young black people cannot continue with our parents’ thinking of having children we can’t afford and using them as contingency plans for when we retire / to support our children.

It’s forced me to think ahead and better plan for my future, financially and ensure that I am my own and carry myself. Yes, that is linked to the decision to not have children but that is a story for another day.

  • Anonymous

1 Comment

  1. This is always an emotional topic but a rather necessary conversation for black people to have. But to digress, yes black tax is for black people, but is it really? I mean isn’t black tax tacking care of those that share the same lineage with you or those around you?

    Don’t other races/cultures do the same but even better? We’d hear of Idians, Chinese, Arabs and even Jews (unless all these are classified as black people in the world context) immigrating and later helping their siblings and cousins to do the same. They squat together and help each other out.

    So is it not that everyone experiences this but with other cultures it is better organised, making it feel less of a burden?

    Back to our current topic. Black tax is a wonderful thing if not emotional blackmail.

    I have to agree with the last testimony. Yes our parents had less opportunities but they eventually caught on and with the little they earned, they devolopes the spending and credit culture (well because they didn’t know better). But then this can only be avoided if we, take an intentional effort to plan and to save and to invest where we can so the culycle does not continue.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *