Black tax – the price of success

2015-10-22 06:00
Zandile Matebe

Zandile Matebe

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The so-called black tax is the money spent by some (many) young South African black graduates who are from underprivileged background. These graduates sent a part of their monthly wages or salary back at home to their parents and siblings when they start working, it’s a contribution, possibly many will make until the day they die. I have been to quite a number of presentations where academics, professionals, economists and many more reputable members of society discussed this.

The main reason or cause behind this ‘norm’ amongst black societies, as discussed and debated, is the fact that in reality black communities are still way behind in terms of development, especially economic development and growth. And most of the time such families are large, you can find that in one family in a house of about five rooms in total ten plus people live together. I know of an older friend of mine who has the world at her feet.

She’s a young adult who has recently got a degree and is now employed. Just when she has just commenced her career journey and intending to grow as a professional, by studying further and developing her skills and knowledge, she is forced to put her plans on hold because she is paying ‘black tax’. She supports her parents, two brothers and a sister, and simply cannot afford anything much for herself, even worse to catch up with her peers. Like many blacks with a good education and decent-paying jobs, she spends a significant part of her income on looking after her family. She even pays school fees for her two cousins.

She is the only one in the family who was privileged enough to get a university degree. When she was studying, some of her relatives helped her out with clothes and monthly allowance. And now it’s payback time, relatives who invested in her now expect help from her.

With the unfortunate reality and situation of many black families not being economically active, by means of getting educated, being employed or running a business, one is prone to feel guilty when they see their parents struggling to survive with the little they get from their state grant or seeing their brothers and sisters in a very difficult situation, so helping them becomes a necessity.

To top it, there are uncles, aunts, cousins, nephews and nieces too. I understand it becomes strenuous because one has to take care of themself as well. Because we black families are so tight that we are raised in one household with our cousins and relatives and sometimes even family friends, it is difficult to neglect others who suffered with you, when you have succeeded. You just can’t get a job, a good salary and buy yourself a luxury townhouse in the suburbs and forget where you come from. You have to go back and fix things – renovate the family house, pay for their electricity and most if not all of their basic needs etc. only afterwards can you focus on yourself.

There are many graduates who are victims of this. Actually not only graduates, because some of us drop out of school at some point and get any job, just so that we can better the situation back at home. The black community is too poverty-stricken it’s not even going to get better soon. Yes the state assists with old-age grants, orphanage grants and more. But only if there could be an unemployment subsidy or monthly income, to benefit disadvantaged and unemployed individuals.

It would help eradicate the ‘black tax’ norm. Economist and financial planner, Gerald Mwandiambira advises that “with a weak economy and volatile markets, now is the time to make some changes. People sinking under the yoke of black tax need to re-examine their roles. It’s very important that people do not overburden themselves or drive themselves into debt. Talk to your family and say ‘no’ when you have extended yourself to your maximum capability.” However, despite the cost and stress, the black tax of one’s life can also be uplifting. With proper planning and clear communication, connecting with parents and helping younger brothers and sisters can be meaningful and rewarding

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