Stop misusing the term ‘black tax’

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Image: Tumelo Mnola
Image: Tumelo Mnola

Black tax exists because of an economically unjust and uneven landscape in South Africa, writes Lesaoana Makotoko.

The term “black tax” needs to be better understood.

Our perceptions of the term have missed the fundamental economic realities of the black poor, working and middle classes.

For anyone who might be wondering what “black tax” is and hasn’t overheard it yet at a braai or in a WhatsApp group, according to the Urban Dictionary it’s “the extra money that black professionals are expected to give every month to support their less-fortunate family and extended families”.

This understanding of supporting family or less-fortunate family to be a “tax” had me thinking about the way black people relate to one another.

Wouldn’t anyone who is in a position to help their family do just that? Whether Indian, Chinese, black or any race.

Indeed, for the majority of black people, the reality of supporting less-fortunate family is far more widespread than any other race and this is largely attributed to our Ubuntu grounding and philosophy.

The lack of adequate financial resources circulating in black communities means that in black homes the rand will stretch to more hands in the family than to any other race group.

Statistics say that as many as 28% of South Africans who live and work in metros are supporting their own children, as well as other dependants, with this statistic growing by 2% on average every year
Lesaoana Makotoko

In South Africa it is members of the so-called “sandwich generation” who have been described as referencing those wedged between two financially dependent generations, namely, their parents on the one hand and their children on the other.

And, if the evidence is anything to go by, many South Africans in their middle years are feeling this financial squeeze.

Statistics say that as many as 28% of South Africans who live and work in metros are supporting their own children, as well as other dependants, with this statistic growing by 2% on average every year.

The sandwich generation, however, is a result of a poor global economy and is a worldwide occurrence that affects not only South Africa but other countries too, such as Korea and India.

Of course, the occurrence is more deep-rooted within black South Africa as a result of our dark history of imperialism and apartheid.

Black tax exists because the black community has the raw end of the economic deal
Lesaoana Makotoko

The majority of “our people” know that black tax exists because of the appalling economic conditions that continue to characterise the black community post-1994.

Black tax exists because of an economically unjust and uneven landscape in South Africa. It’s about time to call it out.

Black tax exists because the black community has the raw end of the economic deal.

And it actually gets even more complicated than that.

My biggest issue with the term “black tax” is that it makes it seem as if black people are the cause and not, in fact, the victims of the tax.

The real black tax isn’t having to help your less-fortunate family, it’s that 9% of the population owns 90% to 95% of all assets.

Real black tax is having to do everything twice as well as white people just to get the same things they do.
Lesaoana Makotoko

It’s a fact that your white counterpart, who could be less qualified than you, is earning five times more than you.

It’s a fact that broad unemployment for black people is at 40.7% and for white people it’s 8.5%.

Real black tax is being told to get a degree to survive only to sit home jobless for years.

Real black tax is finding out black people are forced to pay higher interest rates on home and vehicle loans than their white counterparts.

Real black tax is being treated unequally at good schools.

Real black tax is having to do everything twice as well as white people just to get the same things they do.

Growing up, my family moved around a lot but there were always at least two other family members outside our immediate family nucleus staying with us. These members ranged from aunties and uncles to younger cousins. I learnt so much from having them under our roof and at no point did any of us ever feel like it was a “tax”.

Fast-forward to the present and one of my cousins, who lived with us, owns a successful security company with her husband and another relative who stayed with us has a company that supplies maintenance for railroads.

Disparity exists the world over but in South Africa it has a colour.
Lesaoana Makotoko

Opening-up our home and supporting less-fortunate family members has created two new families that can do the same and so on and so on. And my case isn’t unique. In fact, it’s the norm. Many black South Africans grew up with other family members in the household and many of those family members went on to make good lives for themselves.

It’s time to start using the term black tax properly.

As a black breadwinner, supporting less-fortunate family isn’t black tax, the fact that you have to do it in the first place is in and of itself an indictment on this system of capitalism and its entrenched white monopoly capital that keeps the majority of the black population inevitably trapped by this inequity.

Disparity exists the world over but in South Africa it has a colour.

And, with more young people being unemployed, that disparity increases, despite the efforts of many black South Africans who are trying to make a better life for themselves and their families. There’s a lot in a name and terms are supposed to give truthful context to a situation.

By redefining how we use the term “black tax”, we are able to see the truth of what actually causes the circumstances and we can address and fight the issues together, rather than feeling disdain for helping one another out.

Makotoko is a writer and a senior copywriter at TBWA\Hunt\Lascaris in Johannesburg


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