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The burden of ‘black tax’

Refiloe Ntsekhe is the DA National Spokesperson and Deputy Federal Chairperson. She also serves as Gauteng Social Development Shadow MEC. and is the constituency head for Kempton Park and Tembisa. @refiloentsekhe

As I travel the length and breadth of South Africa, I am confronted by the term “black tax”. I only got to know about the term in the recent years and found out that even within my family that there is “black tax”.

My mother and father took us to the best schools which they could. I went to Pretoria High School for Girls and then went on to the University of Cape Town.

A couple of years ago, my cousin passed away, leaving behind three children and his wife – she later also passed on. His sister took the children despite already having three of her own. My father, a man already on pension, in his wisdom took in the first-born of my late cousin in order to educate her. His rationale was, “If I educate her today, she will become independent and not a dependent on you (referring to me) for the rest of your life.”

I never realised that in effect this is “black tax”.

The first time I visited home, I didn’t realise how this tough decision had impacted on my father financially. I arrived home to find that the girl’s clothes were not presentable. On Sunday before returning to my home, I emptied my suitcase and gave her every piece of clothing I had come with – except of course the clothes on my back and my underwear. This is when I realised that I had to step in and help.

Every time I went home, it became my responsibility to ensure that my new sister had clothes, especially for going to church. My father is a very proud man and it’s important to him that going to church, he and his new daughter are presentable. Although she and I are about the same size, I can’t give her my hand-me-downs. Over the years, I did what I could – over and above the fact that I am a mother to three boys.

Life has been made easier by the fact that my father is a vegetable farmer; however, there are other basics which need to be bought. A teenage girl is a very demanding human being – things like sanitary goods are required every month. Buying in bulk has proven helpful but very costly at the time of purchase: soap, toothpaste, lotion, sanitary pads, washing powder and other things which lighten the load for the year, so as to take pressure off my father. He then just has to top up his groceries with the things that have a shorter life span.

Today, that little girl is a budding young woman who completed matric last year and is studying to become a nurse.

Just as I had become elated that this young girl will soon be an independent woman, life threw another curve ball at our family. My father attended the funeral of a distant relative who has been caring for two grandchildren (aged eight and 10). After the funeral, my father went into the house to bid farewell to the adults, where he was met by another tragedy – here were no adults. Being the man that he is, he took the two children home with him.

So today, I live with my “cross”, as I have come to understand it – “my black tax”. The beginning of this year was especially challenging: I had to buy my sister comfortable shoes for nursing college, and school shoes for my three boys and my other two children. I felt like I had given birth to three children but adopted another three without evaluating whether I could actually afford six children.

This is what it means to have “black tax”. I must say, though, that as much as I may find myself financially trying to balance my life, I am truly grateful in the knowledge that I am able to give. The greatest gift to me is my Sesotho heritage that says that “there is no such thing as an orphan” and that “it takes a village to raise a child”.

When I look at these beautiful children that my father has become a father to, I always wonder – what would have become of them had he not stepped in? The two young ones make me wonder deeply.

Looking at my own life, I wish to call on all South Africans from all walks of life that we should embrace the challenge of fostering the lives of the young and forgotten. For by building them up, taking them under our wing – investing in their futures – we will finally begin to break the “black tax” so that future generations can prosper.

My reality with black tax does say the following to me though – we may earn exactly the same money or have the same take-home pay, but in reality, because I have “black tax”, I have far less money to play around with. I am learning and am forced to be smart with my money. DM


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