by Morongoa Selepe
I want to begin by saying that I do not like the term ‘black tax’, but for lack of a better word, and because this term has been widely used, I will use it myself for this reflection. The term ‘black tax’ refers to the extra money that young black working people are expected to give every month to support their less fortunate families and extended relatives. While most young people (not all) choose or feel the need to support their less fortunate family members, one is not given a choice to pay tax; it is imposed hence my dislike of the term ‘black tax’.
We know piety refers to religious practices and devotion, but pietas held an even deeper meaning for the Romans; it included respect and reverence for the gods but also country, customs, and family, especially parents. A man with pietas respected his responsibilities to God, parents and relatives. We can relate this to the ‘black tax’.
Like many young black working South Africans, I experience ‘black tax’ in my family, both directly and indirectly. Growing up, there was a time when we were taken care of by my grandmother and grandfather. They used the money they would get from their social grant to take care of the family. Later, it became the responsibility of my aunts to look after the family, as they had started working. Now I am grown, I work and look after my family as I am the one with a better job among my siblings. In some months, relatives will ask for assistance with providing for their basic needs, and I help where and if I can.
It is easy to judge situations from a place of comfort or different circumstances and think that ‘black tax’ exists because of those family members who are lazy and do not look for jobs because others will provide for their basic needs. However, the truth is that most black South Africans live in poverty, have high unemployment, our society is unequal economically, and Covid made things worse. Being able to work and earn an income not only provides food, security and shelter but also dignity and fosters the development of one’s self-regard.
While it is well and good to take care of our families, ‘black tax’ places a strain on the lives of those who contribute to the well-being of their families. Some people have labelled ‘black tax’ as a burden because of the financial pressure it places and leaving one with limited resources to build their own life. Something must change to stop the cycle; this is why education is also included in ‘black tax’, helping to fund our sibling’s tuition fees to enable them a better life and opportunities. ‘black tax’ is not only limited to providing food and shelter; included are education, health care, non-monetary support, and caregiving.
From what I said above about pietas, we can say that we are pietas because we care for our families and relatives. Some call it a heavy-duty or forced responsibility, while others, myself included, refer to ‘black tax’ as ubuntu, being your brother’s/ sister’s keeper. How about changing the term, instead of ‘black tax’? Maybe use a more positive word like ‘pietas’? Anything but ‘tax’, but then again, we do not need labels to refer to us taking care of our loved ones; we just do it.