The elephant in the room!
Black Tax across South Africa has truly emerged as one of those topics that people try to avoid at all costs; an elephant in the room. One of the reasons this topic has become so unpopular in public spaces is because it forces most of us to confront our history as South Africans and the wide inequalities that are seen across our society today. Historically speaking, black communities in South Africa were marginalised economically, and this marginalisation has put them at an economic disadvantage many years later. This delayed effect of economic disadvantage can be clearly seen today in various situations where the few black South Africans who manage to scrape up some crumbs for themselves, especially the youth, has to battle black tax before they can fully enjoy their success.
What is black tax and what does it look like?
When one looks around, it is difficult to get a universal definition of what black tax is. Although the sources that exist have a clear understanding of the implications for those affected by black tax as well as the cause of black tax – the economic structure of South Africa’s history that still has effects today.
I’ll attempt to give a clear understanding of what black tax is by way of example. Consider the situation of a young, black South African woman, whom we’ll call Nobuhle. She has just graduated from university. The special thing about Nobuhle, as is the case with most black youth in South Africa today, is that she is first one in her entire family’s history to get a degree from university.
So, after completing her degree, Nobuhle then goes on to find herself a job, another milestone achievement on top of attaining a university qualification. This young and employed graduate then works hard at her new job and finally receives her first ever paycheck. Now, in an ideal situation, she would spend her hard-earned money celebrating all her life’s achievements and the effort she put in up to this point. Unfortunately, the actual situation plays out much differently from the ideal situation.
After getting a paycheck, the first thing Nobuhle will think of is umama ekhaya and how excited she was when her daughter finally landed herself a job. At the very moment umama heard the big news from her daughter, she was very happy because at least she knew that the financial burden she has had to carry all this time as a parent will now be shared between her and her daughter; she doesn’t have to carry it alone anymore.
Other individuals that will cross Nobuhle’s mind, besides her mother, is umalume and the siblings. Nobuhle will think of her siblings and those small jerseys and torn shoes that they have to wear to school each day, and how she would like to buy new ones for them so that they at least look decent when going to school. Umalume yena comes into the picture right after Nobuhle thinks her money does not have to be spent on anyone else. What umalume did was take credit for a couple of beers from the local shebeen down the road and now he has to pay back his debt.
With all of these commitments and requests pulling at her from all directions, sometimes even from friends who ask for money, instead of getting herself a cute pair of jeans, that gorgeous watch she has been eying for a while, or even investing her money so that she creates wealth over the long term, Nobuhle ends up spending her money on everyone else besides herself.
As you can see, the typical situation for an individual burdened by black tax is that of obligation. The person has to forego spending their salary on wealth creation and luxuries to travel down history to identify and provide financial support for family and friends – individuals who played a pivotal role in helping Nobuhle get to where she is today.
Should Nobuhle be obligated help those that made her success possible?
Personally, I’ve had heated and tense conversations with my friends a while back about whether black tax is an obligation or not.
My view around this issue is a bit different from that of most people, because I grew up in a household where my mother always preached about the importance of getting educated so that I can build a better life for myself. She preached this gospel and gave me support without expecting anything back. She explicitly said, “I don’t want you to think that you’re doing this for me, I don’t want your money. You’ll give it to me if you want to, so don’t feel obligated to take care of me when you start working. I’ve put you through school because I want you to be successful. Don’t ever feel like you have to pay me back.” So now you understand why my view is a bit different and why things got a bit tense.
My last remarks
Black tax has no definitive conclusion because others may see black tax as a distress, whilst others may simply call it a proud responsibility. All of these elements can be seen in Niq Mhlongo’s work, a collection of essays he edited called “Black Tax: Burden or Ubuntu.” These essays explore the opposing views of burden and proud responsibility, where the questions answered include,
“Why is it a distress?” and
“How can it ever be a proud responsibility?”
What’s your take?
This article was written by Karabo Motau
You can contact Karabo Motau by clicking on the social media buttons below, or by emailing her on: firstname.lastname@example.org
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