Living with ‘black tax’

2018-03-19 11:04

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Some call it a burden and others call it helping one another.

An African proverb says, Izandla ziyagezana (one hand washes the other).

This is the philosophy behind black tax.

Black tax is a colloquial term for sharing your salary with family and making sure that they are well taken care of before considering taking care of yourself. It feeds an expectation that a person may be liable to carry a burden if they’ve studied and found a job.

That expectation extends beyond immediate family to extended family as well.

Economics co-ordinator for both the Access Initiative and Enriched Management Studies at the University of Kwa-Zulu-Natal Dr Gerry Bokana said that black tax is a cultural and moral obligation that people feel towards their families. He said it is also managing and protecting one’s social reputation and status by not leaving your family behind to suffer.

“We do not feel comfortable when our family members are struggling; we cannot satisfy ourselves only. But we cannot use black tax as an excuse to be irresponsible,” he said.

Black tax however, does not affect every (black) individual.

Scottsville speech therapist Nonkazimulo Mthembu (24) said that black tax did not apply to her.

“I’m one of the lucky few who were and are still not affected by black tax,” she said.

Masters student Nelisa Khambule (24) says she hasn’t yet experienced black tax, but feels she will once she leaves school.

“Most internship salaries are less than R5 000. How do you make a living on that amount when you still need to send money home, pay rent, groceries, university debts, transport?

“How do we get a decent paying job that will meet our pressures and demands as our degrees don’t get us that,” she said.

Many feel that black tax is not a burden, however, but is a way of giving back to your parents for raising you.

“I feel like it’s my responsibility to give back and make my home a better place. I can’t say I’ll go do my own things and live my life, meanwhile at home they are suffering.

“Yes, it puts pressure on me because it puts a hold on me starting my own life, but at the end of the day you really cannot run away from it,” said Thobile Mdima (24), a masters student at the Pieter­maritzburg campus of the University of KwaZulu-Natal.

For people like Nokubongwa Mthombeni (22) of Newcastle, she feels she has become more than just a child and an older sister, but has even assumed the role of a parent.

“Last year when I lived in digs, I couldn’t even save. The little money that I got from NSFAS had to be split. I had to take some money home, not because I was obliged to do so, but I knew the environment I come from. As little money as I have, I know my siblings and parents are suffering back home,” she said.

Mthombeni added that she was then faced with debts and ended up owing her landlord rent money by the end of the year.

“Your conscience tells you to send money because of the environment you’re coming from. Since I’m the eldest child, I know the pain of not having things, so I couldn’t let my siblings suffer as well. Whatever I do, I make sure I cover everything.

“I’m no longer an older sister only, but I’m also a parent,” she said.

Hombakazi Denge (28) of Bizana has finally graduated after five years at university and is now stressing because her stepfather died last year and her mother recently lost her job as a domestic worker. She says she needs to find a job urgently.

“I have a two-year-old child, but I can’t only focus on her. I need to think of all my younger siblings and helping my mom. I was under pressure from my family to finish school.

“Now that I’m a graduate, sitting at home because I couldn’t find a job, my mom gives me that ‘when will you start working’ look, and it makes me feel useless,” she said.

Denge, who studied a BA in Journalism, added that she wants to give up sometimes and often thinks she probably studied the wrong degree because she can’t get a job.

Although she has considered doing a masters degree, she feels the responsibility to start earning a salary as soon as she can.

“My mother depends on us to help relieve her from the stress she faces. This way, my needs will always come last because I’ll be starting with home, and home needs probably will never end.

“I feel forced to work. I’m no longer giving my future the attention it needs and living it the way I want, but I’m now doing it for other people. I have to work because I’m me.

“I hardly sleep at night because I’m constantly thinking about what’s going to happen the next day,” she said.

Denge says she’ll do her very best to better the lives of her siblings and her daughter, but she doesn’t see a bright future for herself.

“I feel like I’ll always be broke; you can’t be successful with black tax hanging over you,” she said.


UKZN’s Dr Gerry Bokana gave financial management tips on how people can budget and save so that black tax does not become a burden.

“When you draft your budget, it is like writing your new year’s resolutions at the beginning of the year. You need something to guide you on how to spend your money.

“A person must look at how much they are earning, and set a portion aside for family. The portion going to the family must be included in your own spending money so that it becomes routine that your spending money includes a portion going to your family.

“Budgeting is not the point however; making ends meet by balancing what you earn is,” he said.

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  black tax

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