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Black Tax: Two Sides Of One Coin

Not everyone finds black tax to be a burden.

11/07/2017 06:15 SAST | Updated 10/10/2017 12:26 SAST
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The word 'tax' gives a negative connotation to a practice that celebrates the notion of ubuntu and family. It is essentially considered an honour to be able to give back to your parents when you are in a position to do so and it is considered to be something to look forward to when one is able to provide for one's family members, be it in a monetary capacity or through being there as a pillar to lean on for your family, both nuclear and extended.

It is often said that it takes a whole village to raise a child, and as such, when the child grows up and is on their own two feet, they are able to go back to the village and show appreciation for the collective effort of the village and the hereditary strength that has breathed life into them. This taking care of one's loved ones is just an extension of our humanity really. My father's parents had 13 children and the first-born kids were the ones who helped raise my Dad and the three that were born after him.

The elder siblings could have easily chosen to live their own lives and not worry about the fact that they had younger siblings at home or that their parents were struggling as a messenger for the local post office and a kitchen maid, barely getting by -- living hand to mouth. But they didn't and as a result, their younger siblings got qualifications in various trades and were able to sow back into the family by building their parents a home and ensuring that my grandparents were well looked after.

The same goes for my maternal family. My mother was for quite some time the only breadwinner at home until she put some of her siblings' kids through school and now they are standing on their own feet.

Growing up, I felt that my parents were bending over backwards, giving to people who didn't understand what it took from them to provide for others. And it vexed me often to see how they would not even get a mere "thank you" at times, as if this was an obligatory act.

Read more from our special report on black tax:

Now that I'm grown I understand it a bit more -- the notion of paving the way forward and investing in the future of those who are not in a position to do anything for themselves. I also believe in empowering individuals to be in a position to take care of themselves and oftentimes this means setting them up until they can be independent. I don't have role models outside of my family spectrum. I grew up with people at home who I looked up to -- women and men whose drive and tenacity I have and continue to draw from -- a village that has given me wings to do the things that I am able to do.

Not everyone sees black tax as a burden, and yet the messages we are bombarded with in the media demonise it to the point where it is painted as a forced responsibility, a responsibility that grips you by the neck and asphyxiates you.

Watch our live discussion about black tax with Mpho Raborife, deputy editor of News24, and Gerald Mwandiambira from the SA Savings Institute.

There is, however, another side to this conundrum. And that is the fact that some families may use this initially good gesture as a means of extortion. Many individuals are beginning to call out black tax, saying there are family members who use this practice as a means to set themselves up at the expense of another. It is also said that there is a pressure, which is brought on by the elders in the family about taking care of the family first before impressing the streets. We obviously cannot project our own ideas about something as nuanced as black tax onto others. We know of those members in our families who will always hit you up only when they want a cash injection and call to say 'hi' once a month -- usually on payday.

There are also the health implications that come with the heavy sense of the responsibility of the role one is playing in one's family. With this anxiety comes a need to always go beyond your means -- often breaking your back in a bid to be everything to everyone, and leaving nothing for yourself. Working under duress because in the back of your mind all your family dependents are carried with you to work and back. This often happens at the expense of the aspirations of the South African youth. It is also common practice that when someone is helping out at home, in whatever capacity, that they are inevitably working twice as hard to get what they want.

Sometimes this could have an adverse effect on someone's aspirations because now they're not only focused on their future but are juggling this with the responsibility of the home, thus making them work under duress. A way in which this can be curbed is by playing open cards with your family and opening up about your financial situation and being forthcoming about how much you can spare each month, without necessarily speaking to your earning capacity.

Whichever way you might choose to view the concept of black tax, it is an inherited result of inequality and a consequence of many years of either living beneath the poverty line or just over the so-called "middle class" line. When the first family member graduates or the first person gets a decent paying job, the pressure is placed on that individual to chart the way for the rest of the family. Being disadvantaged leads to a heightened dependency on those in the family who are (or appear to be) better off than the rest of the family.

Black tax does not have to lead young black South Africans into financial ruin. There are ways in which we can ensure that we take care of our families while taking care of our financial, physical and mental health. And that could be by saving some money each month, getting professional advice on how to spend wisely and also being honest with one's family in order to bring expectations down to a realistic level.

There are always two sides to a story, and one shouldn't be too quick to judge without engaging with the black tax concept and the ramifications of it and understanding what it means. The aim should ultimately be to create a trend where families are looking at ways of spending that will allow financial stability and a means of not perpetuating the same cycle for generations to come.