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The Conversation Around Black Tax

No matter the circumstances of your family, the cycle of black tax is vicious and exhausting to the mental and financial well-being of black people, writes Siyanda Mbuzo.

The Conversation Around Black Tax

For many of us growing up, the people who raised us were like superheroes, walking on water and performing miracles. They managed to get us everything we needed and made us feel safe and secure. We seldom saw them struggling because they wanted to shield us from their harsh financial realities.


Unfortunately, as we get older and we have to give back to these magnificent people, we learn an unpleasant truth: they made it look so easy.

They strained themselves just so we could sleep without an empty stomach, despite them being underpaid. They bought us the latest phones, coolest sneakers and paid for all the expensive school trips. They even managed to take care of their unemployed siblings, nephews and nieces, all while getting paid less than R2 000 per month.

You begin to understand the pain they went through because you are now going through it as well. The cycle continues when you get a job and the responsibility to take care of your family falls on you.

This is called black tax, and we are going to look at how black tax affects different people financially and psychologically.


“They made it look so easy”


When it comes to taking care of our families, every case is different. The dynamics of each family changes their experience. Most of the time, we take care of our family because we love them and want to give back. In other cases, the financial circumstances force you to take on the responsibility of being the breadwinner. Your parents retire, or your grandmother’s grant money is no longer enough to support everyone.

You being taking care of household duties such as buying groceries, furniture and paying family debts. You work hard to improve the lives of your family members and ensure their future is secure.


The scale of our involvement also varies: if you come from a well-off family, you help out here and there but you are still able to use your money as you please. In other cases, you and your family help each other out and you still have some money to spare. In the more extreme cases, however, all the money you earn goes towards improving your family’s difficult lifestyle. This can come at a great cost when you are underpaid in your job or internship.


“All the money you earn goes towards improving your family’s difficult lifestyle”


When it comes to Black Tax, being underpaid is relative to your financial responsibilities. You could be considered lucky for landing a job that pays R15 000, yet you'd still feel you are not being paid enough. Your colleagues and peers earning the same amount could be renting beautiful apartments and buying new cars while your reality is different.

You are trying to buy your family a house so you can move out of the one room shack all 5 of you lived in. This is all while you are trying to pay back your student loan, your family's debts and accounts and trying to take your siblings to good schools. Your peers and colleagues talk about you behind your back, asking themselves why you don't have all the things they have. You barely have time for self-care, such as going to see a movie, buying yourself that bag you like or renting your own space.


“You barely have time for self-care”


You become like your peer who just got out of university and landed an internship that pays R3 000 per month. The difference is that they cannot even dream of buying their family a house – they can barely get to work every day because, even if they only help out at home here and there, R3 000 is not enough to support them.

In reality, R3 000 can assist you as an allowance, but it is not enough to cover your basic needs. You can’t even help yourself with so little; helping your family becomes even more challenging.


When you are not getting paid enough you feel stuck, even exploited, at work. You work hard, yet earn peanuts. You can’t leave your job because you know your family back home is counting on you. This leads to unhappiness, even depression, while you hang on by a thread, barely making ends meet. It gets worse when you work far from home and have to send money back to your family each month.

While supporting you family, you have to pay rent and live in cheap (but dangerous) areas. Your boss threatens to fire you because sometimes you don’t come into work…due to lack of money. This leads you to take drastic measures such as taking loans you cannot pay back, or getting into relationships just to be supported financially. In these relationships you are at risk of being used and abused and you might even feel you have no choice but to stay.


“You are at risk of being used and abused”


Many people are able to move forward and become successful enough to support both themselves and their families. Unfortunately, the majority of people don’t rise above this situation: people whose dreams die because they have to take any job they can get and accept the salary, no matter how small. People who can’t even go to university, no matter how brilliant they may be, because they need that job to support their families.

There are a number of university students who even use their NSFAS allowance to support their families. For them, the university experience becomes unbearable because they are unable to take care of their own needs. Failing is not an option and, if there is a risk of being excluded, depression kicks in.

All these scenarios I have laid out often lead to depression, stress, anxiety and, in extreme cases, even suicide. To cope, people turn to substance abuse or act out their emotions in violent and unhealthy ways, putting themselves and others in harm’s way.


No matter the circumstances of your family, the cycle of black tax is vicious and exhausting to the mental and financial well-being of black people. Platforms where we can have safe spaces to talk about its negative effects are limited. You cannot talk about it with family because it might worry them or make them feel like a burden. In some instances it can cause a rift within the family as you are shamed, labelled as selfish or ungrateful. Talking about it with friends might make you feel uncomfortable because venting could be mistaken for begging for money. When you talk to people who do not relate, they may even disregard that there's even a thing such as black tax. It can cost you relationships you hold dear to your heart and make it difficult to maintain healthy relationships.


“The cycle of black tax is vicious and exhausting”


Feelings of guilt can make it difficult to even admit you are suffering because you feel that talking about it is blaming your family for your pain. We need to remember that we all stress about our financial circumstances but it is important to talk about it so that we can deal with its psychological effects. It is therefore important to always check on the wellbeing of our friends and family members and, if we know ways of coping, advise them accordingly.

We need to create safe spaces where these people feel comfortable enough to talk about their challenges without being made to feel bad. Black tax has been normalized within the black community but there certainly needs to be a conversation around it to create solutions. This way, black people are able to move forward and are able to focus on taking care of themselves and their careers. Opening conversations like this can help the black community move further to a better future.


Article by Siyanda Mbuzo




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