Black tax is a term that has its origins from the apartheid system in South Africa. It refers to the money that black professionals are expected to give every month to support their less fortunate family and extended families.
Black tax is usually a result of deep-rooted generational poverty which renders many family members financially dependent. Even though black tax is often done out of goodwill and moral responsibility, it has trapped many of Tanzania’s middle-class in a financial death sentence.
Poverty indeed entails fear and stress and sometimes depression. It means a thousand petty humiliations and hardships.
One of the most brutal evidence of poverty is going to town and seeing women sitting on roadsides in the city, selling vegetables and fruits with their babies on their laps. Unfortunately, for many people in Africa one doesn’t have to go that far to meet the real evidence of poverty, because it sits right in their homes.
The battle for the working middle-class is much tougher. The promise of being the first in the family to go to university or get a nice job sometimes causes more frustration than hope – even depression.
A study conducted in South Africa revealed that extended-family financial obligations and ad-hoc requests for financial support are among the top causes of financial stress for the professional middle-class, often leaving them with no savings.
It is agreed that providing financial support to parents and relatives is the right thing to do; however, it can be done more strategically and responsibly.
As the timeless wisdom goes, give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.
However, this approach may not applicable to most dependent parents because they have aged past the ‘learning how to fish’ threshold. How then can the financially able member(s) of poor families sustain both their immediate and extended families without subjecting their lives to a constant financial deadlock, risking becoming dependent parents on their own children?
One way to go about this is to prioritise and using black tax as a strategic investment to absorb the financial shocks that come with unexpected events such as illness.
Medical treatment without health insurance can significantly pull back people financially. While this is expected to be common knowledge, majority of people especially elderly parents do not have health insurance despite having family members who could afford the service.
Secondly, black tax can be used more sustainably by deliberately identifying and nurturing potential from our own communities.
It is surprising how much talent gets lost in rural and even urban areas where children have no access to good quality education.
Indeed, instead of only sustaining daily operational costs, perhaps black tax can sponsor education and make a more sustainable impact in uprooting poverty from our communities.
We must remember that poverty eradication is an exercise that requires many educated and capable people.
It also requires collective selfless attitudes, where for instance one could forgo some luxury and use the money to pay school fees for the struggling child in the neighbourhood.
Thirdly, black tax can be made less stressful if approached more transparently. Expectations on financially capable family members can be extremely high.
It is therefore important for these family members to establish budgets, identify black tax amount, and set the right expectations by transparently communicating this to the beneficiaries. Otherwise, if more and more middle-class professionals continue to live month to month without savings, black tax will never end, subsequently putting the entire country in a much bigger trouble.
Amartya Sen, an Indian philosopher summed it well: “Poverty is not just a lack of money; it is not having the capability to realize one’s full potential as a human being.” Indeed, any country’s economic success highly relies on the full potential of every citizen especially the middle class, and black tax should not prevent that.
The more fully-actualized people a nation has, the sooner it will kick poverty out of the way.
Epiphania is a development enthusiast and a postgraduate researcher at the University of Manchester.