Don’t Call It ‘Black Tax’ …

What is black tax? Black tax is the process through which an individual (male or female) who is black (hence black tax) generates some sort of income or revenue and uses some of it to support their own families (be it immediate or related/relatives – in our culture, no matter the blood gap, everyone is family (Ubuntu) – at least that’s how it used to be. Or is it still the case?)

Why is it called Black Tax? 

I really don’t understand why helping or assisting family is called tax. I don’t like calling it black tax, and I’ll tell you why. But before that…

What is tax? Tax is the financial cost that we incur, with both our reluctant knowledge (we know what it is, but given a choice, there’s a huge probability that we’d avoid it) and permission (we accept it reluctantly). Meaning, even though we don’t want to, we have no choice but to bear the costs. I have never come across anybody who is jubilant about paying tax. The point is, most of us pay taxes reluctantly, and the operative word or idea here is, ‘reluctance’

Why is black tax branded so negatively and why does it have negative connotations? We see black tax as something that is hindering the success and progress of a black child or individual.

I’d like to reframe this notion of black tax. Before I do that, here’s a bit of context as to how we ultimately became subjected to the so called black tax.


As black people, sibuya kude. Without delving too deep into the past, I believe and it is a fact that our current situation, where most of us (as individuals and families) are very poor (the degree of which varies for both individuals and families, but the point is, the majority are not wealthy nor rich), is duly to our past. We were stripped not just of our dignity, respect and selfworth, but were also stripped off of our ability to become fully functioning members of society who have a respectable stake or influence in both our own lives (this includes family) and the broader context (people outside of our lives and families). Apartheid left us powerless. In the wake or dawn of democracy, we were left to pick up the pieces.


Picking up the pieces

Picking up the pieces means having to catch up. Basically starting from zero where those who benefitted from Apartheid were coming around for their fifth or sixth lap, meaning that wealth and riches are guaranteed for more than one generation. Where as most of us, we are the generation that needs to first lay the foundation on which those coming after us can start laying the first bricks of building wealth that outlives more generations to come and they benefit form it – isende lendlela.

As we pick up the pieces, the process starts with one family member getting a head start, meaning; they either go to school, study, graduate, ultimately start working and earning an income; alternatively, an individual or family starts a small business that keeps the family going.

The individual who has the head start either has the responsibility or chooses to help their family. Helping can be in the form of actual money, groceries, paying school fees of their siblings and cousins, sending money back home to their parents or to bo nkgunu le bo ntate mogolo, helping a family member pay rent, etc.

Knowing our history, I believe that it is our responsibility and should therefore be our choice to help our families. Informed by the concept of Ubuntu, tax should not even be how we describe the helping hand we offer to our own families. In colloquial Zulu we say; sisebenzela e jar’deni, meaning, we not only work for ourselves, but our families too.


Don’t you ever call it black tax again

We know our history and it calls upon us to work together to empower not only ourselves but those around us in order for us to prosper as a people. So, if we are really helping our families, why even call it tax? ‘Tax’ suggests that we are helping but we don’t really want to, meaning that we do it reluctantly because we have no choice. Well, we do have a choice.

Here’s the psychology and hopefully I’ll be able to reframe black tax and you won’t call it tax any more:

Why I don’t like calling it black tax

Why is it that when we help strangers, people we hardly know but who need help we call it ‘doing good’ or ‘paying it forward’? There is now a branded equity called; RAK (Random Acts of Kindness) which is an initiative that encourages us to help others. Why is it that I can go to a random school, paint the walls and feel good about my actions, and yet, when I work hard to help my own blood and the feeling is somewhat different?

Why is helping my family taxing but helping strangers “doing good from my heart”? How is my family different from charities or strangers?

There’s absolutely no difference.

The fact that I help my aunt with her groceries, give other family members money to pay for their children’s school trips and school fees, send money via Shoprite’s money market or FNB’s e-wallet to many others so that they can buy food is not ‘tax’. I am merely doing good without any expectation of getting anything in return. There’s absolutely nothing to be ashamed of or to feel bad about.

To all those who have up to so far, believed that they’ve been black taxed; to you I’d like to say that you have been doing really good and you should continue doing so without fear or favour.

The concept of black tax, without realising, puts us into a negative mindset where the consequence is that we want to stop ‘paying taxes’ to our families and focus on our individual progress and success, forgetting about our families.

‘Black tax’ brainwashes us or unconsciously makes us feel negative towards helping our families. When you help your sister, aunt, brother, mother, father, cousin or even grand parents, you are not paying tax, you are paying it forward. You are doing an absolutely beautiful thing that should be commended and encouraged. Sibuya kude so we need to give back to our own families. We need to randomly act kind to our own families.

What’s the point of painting walls of random schools meanwhile the fence at your aunt’s is falling apart or the ceiling (if they have one) is dripping when it rains or that room divider that you used lean against is just hanging by a paniki (bottle beer cap) under one corner?

What’s that saying? Charity begins at home?

The success that only benefits you and leaves your family at the edge of poverty or worse, right in the middle of it, is not success but self enrichment. I believe that real, authentic and true success is when you enjoy your money, but never feeling guilty that your family is hungry. Unfortunately, most of us don’t have the luxury to only work for ourselves; k’mele sisebenzele ejar’den.

Be proud that you are adding value and dignity to your family. You are not paying tax, this is your family my black child. This is your family.

Writer: Bogosi Motshegwa     Photographer: Khumbelo Makungo