Niq Mhlongo's Black Tax comes at the right time


Niq Mhlongo’s compilation Black Tax: Burden or Ubuntu? is a well-written, incisive look at a subject that has become painful for many, writes  Lesetja Malope.

Black Tax: Burden or Ubuntu? by Niq Mhlongo (R260)
Jonathan Ball Publishers

There’s never been a more relevant time to write about black tax than now for South African middle class folk.

We’re a quarter of a century into the journey to the proverbial promised land as a democracy, exactly when the economic gap between the rich and the poor is at its widest and the middle class is excruciatingly thinning – setting the tone for a rough patch ahead for black taxpayers, pun intended.

Niq Mhlongo and 25 brilliant fellow writers have penned a book whosetime has come, and do justice to the subject by not only showing both sidesof the coin but also shedding light into the depth of the various othertaxations that accompany financial black tax.

The book slays the term black tax without the agonising jargon that some writers tend to punctuate their narrations with.

In much the same way the term sparks emotion and debate at dinner tables and in bars, the writers manage with ease to take the reader on a journey through the socioeconomic tapestry that underlies all black households – from the small village of Madombidzha in Venda to the suburbs in the north of Johannesburg.

Paying taxes, conceptual illustration. Young unhap

They lay down a picture of both the joyful sorrow black tax can be and the loathful ugliness of the term.

One such excellent execution is that of Primrose Mrwebi, who in her opening paragraph hits the nail on the head on why the topic is highly emotive: “Black tax is very much like the land issue – every time you mention it, it’s as if you are saying a swear word,” she writes.

Phehello J Mofokeng, in particular, goes as far as to differentiate between duty and stupidity in providing for those whose needs we classify as black tax.

Somewhere in the belly of the book another awesome young author offers an illustration of what black tax has evolved into for the younger generation: “It takes more than this spell [university degree] to get rid of the beast of poverty, but you must do it because in the eyes of the community no one is successful until their entire family is successful,” Nkateko Masinga brilliantly lays it down.

My only criticism about the book is its lack of coloured voices among the writers.

The writers, in their majority, seem to agree that the root of this form of taxation lies in the dispossession of the masses in the country and similar legislated evils.

However, the book fails to include mixed-race people who suffered the same fate, though not necessarily in equal measures.

Perhaps it’s because the term is “black” tax, perhaps it’s an oversight or just maybe it’s because the book is cautious of biting off more than it can chew and wants to avoid diluting the topic. Whatever the reason, it feels like an injustice to exclude for example “coloured tax”. Black Tax: Burden or Ubuntu is an overall display of great writing talent, probably the cream of the crop in narrator capacity this country has to offer.

From multiaward-winning authors and businesswomen to the best of the born-frees, this book has the perfect mix of perceptions across generations.

Between its pages lies a gem for generations to come, worthy of the top shelf in any self-respecting reader’s collection.

With the quality of writing and finessed tackling of the topic from their various lived experiences, I dare say there is no black South African who cannot relate.

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