Looking after family is not a tax, black or otherwise

August 25, 2015, 6:18am
Image: enca.com

Looking after family is not a tax, black or otherwise

I FIND the concept of a black tax nonsense, pejorative and a dangerous narrative because it is revisionist and risks rewriting the history of the country in a very fictitious manner.

Since when is responsibility, caring and espousing the values of ubuntu a form of tax? It can’t be correct!

The term "black tax" continues to be bandied about in the media and by many professionals.

Some define it as a burden on working black people, who have to support family members, many of whom are unemployed.

The use of the term is dangerous because it distorts what the real "black tax" was in the history of SA. The risk is that our children will grow up really not knowing what the real black taxes were. When they do research, they will find this drivel about the supposed "tax" of black people supporting their families and relatives.

For the record, the government has never legislated that black people must pay a certain portion of their income to support family members in need. Now some of you might find this to be petty.

But the real black tax in SA is what has contributed to many black people in this country having to do what they do today in order to rescue their families from poverty.

In the past, black people were forced to pay all sorts of racist taxes, such as hut taxes.

Those were the real black taxes, not people caring for their own. For example, in the Donald Hunt Historical Papers at Wits University, we read that Law No24 of 1895 dictated black people above the age of 21 were liable for tax. In the absence of any proof black people had reached the age of 21, the tax collector would guess.

A hut tax had to be paid by every black person who inhabited, used or claimed any place labelled as a hut or some form of dwelling. If a black person had additional wives, there would be more tax paid by that person. We read that those natives who did not pay the hut tax and lived in white areas then paid a poll tax.

Naturally, a hut tax would have forced many black people to leave their land and go to work for more money to meet the racist tax needs of the state. In essence, it would have been part of a ploy to force some black people to sell their labour cheaply, helping a number of white-owned corporations to make a lot of money.

We often read that the rebellion of Bambatha kaMancinza of 1906 against the colonial authorities was a rebellion against the payment of the poll tax in addition to the hut tax. Anyway, that’s a debate for another day. But these were the real black taxes, if you get what I am saying.

That black people in 2015 are said to be paying a "black tax" because they care for each other, by taking responsibility, despite financial challenges, is really a mystery.

The notion of people spending money to care for their loved ones is not something unique to black people. A lot of white people spend money supporting close relatives who are not so well off. A number of white colleagues I spoke to acknowledge this as a cost and a challenge sometimes. But they never accept it as a tax.

"It is a responsibility," a colleague of mine said. "It’s not a tax."

My colleague went on to tell me how some of his friends had to acquire nursing services for their loved ones or pay for putting their parents in an old-age home.

Another colleague told me how people in the Jewish community go to a Bar Mitzvah and give huge sums of cash as a gift to a young one coming of age. The money, if used properly, can help bring a lot of stability.

We know of many people who care for one another.

This is not to undermine the financial challenges that many black people face in order to help their loved ones. I have a number of times dipped into credit to help. I understand how challenging this can be.

But, having said that, we need to remove the distorted "black tax" narrative. It does not help.

What will assist is professionals advising black people on how they could fund their less well-off loved ones in a manner that helps them to be more financially independent in the future. For example, how do black people supporting poor relatives use the money for productive causes rather than merely for consumption?

The black population needs financial advice, not distorted labelling.

• Ndzamela is finance writer