10/07/2017 05:53 SAST | Updated 10/10/2017 12:20 SAST

Revealed: The Pain Of Black Tax

Extended-family financial obligations are among the top sources of financial stress, a study finds.


"Sometimes you feel like there is this anger when you tell them you don't have money. It has even made me scared to say 'no' or say, 'I can't this month'."

Ntozinhle Nkosi* is a 30-year-old administration manager from the North West who has been supporting family members financially since she started working six years ago. "Half of my stresses come from black tax," she tells HuffPost SA.

  • Click here to view our special report on black tax.

Extended-family financial obligations and/or ad-hoc requests for financial support are among the top sources of financial stress for professional middle-class South Africans, according to the 2017 Sanlam Benchmark Survey.

The annual retirement funding study surveyed more than 1 300 workers about their financial health. Three-quarters of them reported being financially stressed.

Financial stress could have dire consequences.

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

According to the 2017 Wellness Survey of debt management company DebtSafe, 87 percent of the 2 000 respondents said financial stress contributed to them feeling stressed, worried, depressed and tired for no apparent reason. It also affected their sleeping patterns and productivity at work.

Overindebtedness and the inability to save were among respondents' biggest financial worries.

Having too much debt is also among the financial difficulties that have caused South Africans to reach out to The South African Depression and Anxiety Group in greater numbers in the past year, says the organisation's operations director, Cassey Chambers. "Financial pressures can contribute to someone's mental health issues and make them feel more stressed, anxious and depressed. In some cases, financial stress can lead to more serious symptoms of trauma and could increase the risk factor for suicide."

Clinical therapist and debt counsellor Stephen Mulima tells HuffPost SA: "A few of my patients are in psychiatric institutions [because of financial stress]". He says warning signs that someone should seek help could include difficulty concentrating, difficulty sleeping or eating, constantly feeling anxious and irritable and not being able to "switch off" from worrying about your financial situation.

'I want to do more but I can't'

Those who support members of their extended families can be plagued by guilt, which may coincide with thoughts such as: "I want to do more but I can't. How can I say no when my family needs it more than I do and I am in a position to help?" These are thoughts Nkosi* has had many times.

Mulima says feelings of guilt are understandable as someone may wish to do more, but might not be able to do so. Guilt can also come from wanting to reduce the amount provided or to completely withdraw it from the family. A person, in this instance, may feel that they are "abandoning the family," says Mulima.

Another possibility is that someone could be subconsciously guilt-tripped into paying more than they can afford to or resort to short-term loans to cover additional family requests.

Strained relationships

Mulima says mismatched and/or unrealistic expectations are likely to cause tension or resentment between those who support their families and the family members who are being supported. "Families may simply think there is more where that came from just because you are working." When someone then indicates their inability to pay the required amount, the family may not understand, or think they are deliberately withholding money.

Dipuo Ngobe*, a nurse from Johannesburg, tells HuffPost SA her mother has repeatedly expressed the hope that Ngobe would buy her a car. "I don't even have a car myself and the topic has now just become a sour one," she says. "This is over and above the money I send for groceries and helping build the family home."

Read more from our special report on black tax:

When HuffPost SA recently tweeted about our project on black tax, @NomalangaSA replied: "Black tax is not merely the money. It's the household leadership burden that gets thrust on income earners. It's the emotional labour."

In response to a HuffPost snap survey, one respondent wrote: "There is an emotional burden that comes with black tax. There is an expectation of leadership and dependency that comes with black tax that negatively impacts my aspirations and relationships."

What could someone who is stressed by the demands of supporting family members do?

Chambers suggests exploring free resources such as support groups, counselling centres and toll-free helplines.

If you are in too much debt, contact a debt counsellor, advises Mulima. "Don't wait until it's too late." If you start skipping instalments or are paying less than what is required, and the problem is not likely to go away in the next month or two or six, seek help immediately, he says.

John Manyike, the head of financial education at Old Mutual, says drawing up a budget, is the most important step. Assess how much you can afford to spend on supporting family members and honestly communicate this to your family, is his advice.

If you, or someone you know, is depressed or may be suicidal, please contact SADAG for free telephonic counselling on 0800 21 22 23 or SMS 31393.

*Names have been changed to protect the privacy of the interviewees.