As a student, I was excited to start working, thinking that once I start earning my own money I’d be independent and free to do whatever I pleased. Whether I wanted to buy my homies a round of drinks or save a percentage of my salary if I’m feeling responsible, I could do it.
But after my family figured out how much I earn, the prospect of month end and that subsequent SMS notification from my bank fills me with a slight feeling of dread and annoyance.
I haven’t even been working for more than six months. You’d think they’d give me time to enjoy my money before they were all up in my wallet. But no. I get regular texts, and phone call at ungodly hours from distant relatives asking me for money.
I feel indebted to my family for having sacrificed so much in raising me. I love and appreciate them for everything they’ve done. I understand that it would be selfish not to give back. I mean, I don’t mind giving back a bit here and there. But honestly, the feeling of being forever obligated to them is overwhelming. Frankly, I don’t want to spend my life being the family ATM.
Black tax is experienced in different ways.
Take Naledi Sithole, 28, she recently got promoted to her dream job and with it she’s grown more anxious and less content. She says the more successful she’s become, the more dependant and demanding her family became. “It’s like I have a noose around my neck, the more money I make the tighter it becomes,” she says. This is why she looks at her own success with mild resentment.
Then there’s Sthembiso Miyeni, 26, who had to cough up his entire savings to bury his uncle. “I remember when my uncle (my “absent” father’s second cousin, far removed) died. I resented the man for leaving me with the burden of burying him. I sat in the family meetings wondering when had I become the breathing equivalent of Avbob.”
Black middle-class guilt or responsibility?
Some say Black Tax doesn’t exist and is instead self-imposed black middle-class guilt suffered by those few who have “made it” while their black kin are still stuck in the system of poverty and unemployment. The black middle-class with a tertiary education, a car, a home (or those who pay over R4 000 in rent) and possibly earn between R15 000 and R50 000 has grown over the years. UCT’s Unilever institute estimates this number to be about 4 million people.
I think the idea that black-tax is a form of black middle-class guilt is dismissive to an uncomfortable reality and responsibility that many young black people experience, even those who don’t fall within the R15 000 and R50 000 salary bracket. According to the 2011 census by Statistics SA, black people in South Africa still earn six times less than white people this is despite policies like BBBEE which were enacted to redress historical economic inequalities.
Even with these efforts, there are still major disparities between the overall income levels of South Africa’s different races. Which is exactly why we need Black Tax.
When I asked my mom what she thought about black tax being middle-class guilt, she said that it is not about guilt but rather about compassion. “You cannot eat, while others go hungry.” She went on to explain that it’s not something that we have to do, but we do it anyway.“This is how African communities work, we’re all responsible for each other, this is how we raise children.”
I think it’s quite ironic that we complain about black-tax, when many of us and our parents are beneficiaries of black-tax. So, black-tax can’t be all bad, can it?
It’s a pain in the pocket but it’s a pain I have very little choice but to endure until the promise of economic equality has been delivered.
What are your experiences/thoughts on Black Tax, share them with us by tweeting us @LiveVIPZA.