Black Tax a Way of Life

For young Africans supporting extended families, the pressure of finding tuition money adds another brick to their staggering financial burden.

There is a certain anxiety that comes with knowing that your aunt, who raised you for a good part of your adolescent life, might not have money to buy a loaf of bread. Or when you are inundated with “Please call me, need cash pls” SMSes from your close cousin, who used to provide reasons for needing the cash – R35 for 15 minutes at the internet café to submit a job application, perhaps – but no longer bothers with the details.

You convince yourself that the regular tithe you pay to your family is fair and due, and that you can manage. Until your skorokoro breaks down in the middle of a busy intersection on the day you have an important meeting with your boss and new clients – and you remember your manager’s doubtful “Are you sure you can handle this account?” as the tow truck wheels off with your car, and realise that the R1 750 it is going to cost you was to have paid for the petrol to ferry family members to a funeral in Mpumalanga.

Welcome to the world of “black tax” – the extra money that black professionals are coughing up every month to support their extended families. If you are lucky enough to have a job, it is seen as your duty to subsidise relatives who are less well off. 

Take for example Crispin Phiri (26), a candidate attorney at a Johannesburg law firm, believes the term “black tax” is apt.

“Black tax is very real and is an exclusively black experience,” Phiri says. “It’s how most black people are brought up. You are brought up to first look out for your family; you can’t be living in luxury while your family struggles.” 

Phiri lives with his mother and pays his 17-year-old sister’s school fees. “I understand that we are an unequal society and this is the one way of addressing that inequality 

so that the next generation is better off than we were, and can live a life that is fairly more comfortable than ours.”

Society continues to reinforce the past in various ways, Phiri believes. 

“Our entire economy is still built around exclusively white areas, meaning that you have to leave your black area … and be an economic migrant to go somewhere else to work, which is highly problematic for black people.”

Black tax is perpetuated by historical holdovers and societal problems, but education and a shift in perspectives may make a difference – starting with the perception that previous generations were better at saving than the current one is. “The cost of living was lower and many basic services and utilities were free, as opposed to now,” he says. “Also, the rural population helped with saving. Most of the population now is urban.” Young people start work burdened by student debt and simply never achieve an earnings surplus. 

To cover deficits, they take out more loans and get stuck in a cycle of debt that can last their entire lives. The lack of financial education – even for the highly educated – makes matters worse.

“The basic money management skills are often not taught formally and hence many people struggle with personal finances, regardless of their earnings or level of tertiary education. Often, it is those who earn more who are more indebted.” The good news is that money management skills have been made part of the school curriculum. 

The bad news is that the current crop of tertiary students, and the generation preceding them, were not so fortunate.

They can, however, benefit from drives to encourage entrepreneurship. “We need more entrepreneurship opportunities to teach people that a job is not the only way of accumulating wealth,”  “We need to educate people on creating wealth.”

Mwandiambira says that some black families live beyond their means. “This is a result of blacks playing catch-up to their white counterparts who benefited in many instances from apartheid/colonial rule, and still benefit from corporate managers who pay white graduates more. 

Lifestyle observations of black colleagues and their white counterparts suggest a difference in earnings.”

Mosibudi Ratlebjane is the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation’s social justice fellow at the Mail & Guardian. 

I believe that we should at all times find an equilibrium whereby we should help our people by 

letting them know that what you are giving them is within your means and also if blessings come 

forth or greener pastures you shall adjust accordingly. On the other hand do not hel[p those who 

never “suffered” with youwant to sit at the table with you no matter what.

Charles Chambers Wahome
Product Management Consultant


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