A successful young professional, Leah, like many South Africans, pays Black Tax to support family back home. She does this gladly. The question is, why?
One of eight siblings, when Leah’s parents passed away her grandparents stepped out of retirement and into the primary care role. It was a big sacrifice. Now Leah is a successful young professional and she has the opportunity to pay them back. This is not an unusual situation in South Africa. Black Tax or ” the perceived obligation of black professionals to provide financial support to their extended family” (as per the definition on Business Maverick) is a widespread issue. However, Leah’s attitude is unusual. With good boundaries in place, she is happy to be able to take care of her grandparents – and her siblings. Listen to Leah explain where this attitude comes from – and how her faith in Jesus has had a major impact.
Black Tax: Why I Don’t Resent It
“One day, if I have the opportunity, I want to give it back to them – sure – even if it’s not to them I’m going to give it to my siblings that we all had… we started at a disadvantage and they gave us the opportunity to make up for that so my thinking was always that it’s an honour. If I’ve got money I want to give it to my grandparents I want to see my siblings thrive. You know, I wanted to give back it was never that… “you have to give back because you’ve got money” and I wanted to keep the money – no! When I had money I wanted to give it to them because I felt gratitude for all that they’ve done for me.”
Host: Blaque Nubon
Guest: Leah Maseko
Title: Black Tax
Location: South Africa
One day, if I have the opportunity, I want to give it back to them – sure – even if it’s not to them I’m going to give it to my siblings that we all had… we started at a disadvantage and they gave us the opportunity to make up for that so my thinking was always that it’s an honour. If I’ve got money I want to give it to my grandparents I want to see my siblings thrive. You know, I wanted to give back it was never that… “you have to give back because you’ve got money” and I wanted to keep the money – no! When I had money I wanted to give it to them because I felt gratitude for all that they’ve done for me.
How you doing?
I’m good and you?
Good, Good. Good man before we get into formal introductions you need to say ‘whats-up!’ to everybody out there. Yo! This is Leah. She’ll formally introduce herself. Welcome to The Gospel Coalition Africa podcast. My name is Blaque Nubon and – yeah – we have visuals this time around. You’ve been wondering how this pretty face looks! Like, finally!
They could have gone without seeing this face, but OK!
Because, I’m not the most camera appealing person. I blame it all on the camera skills. I’m generally pretty in person!
How you doing Leah?
I’m good thanks and you?
Thank you so much for joining us and wanting to chat to us about rather an interesting topic heavy at times… challenging to many and I don’t know other nice ways to describe it… But before we jump into it can you tell us about yourself… yeah… who are you? Where were you born? Do you love Jesus? Where do you work? If you can tell us where you work…
OK, as you’ve been saying my name is Leah. I was born in Atteridgeville in Pretoria, Pretoria West. I am number 6 in a family of 8 kids.
Yeah! It’s an entire soccer team! I work with S&G Grant Thornton. I’m a consultant there. I do auditing.
OK. Did you always want to be an auditor?
Yeah, I think I have since like grade 10 it was like my dream. I was like “I’m going to be an auditor.” I was headed for that direction.
How did you think… cuz you know like with black kids it’s always like a doctor, a lawyer and maybe like an accountant. And you decided to go into auditing.
Yeah. So it was actually in accounting class that I decided that I’m going to bean auditor because initially I wanted to be an accountant and obviously an aspect of accounting is auditing and just the way like my grade 10 teacher explained it… it’s about problem solving and making a business better and I think because it speaks to a part of me that wants to fix a lot of people’s problems. Like, you know I can’t be a social worker because I don’t think I have the emotional capacity for that so I’ll fix businesses!
I see, I see… and I know you… you like fixing things.
The Burden of Black Tax
So, can you tell us about… if we jump straight into the topic, Black Tax. What is Black Tax? So somebody’s watching this and they’re like I’ve heard this term a couple times…
once… you start making enough money it’s the expectation that you’ll support or provide for your family both immediate and extended.
I don’t know if there’s a proper dictionary explanation for Black Tax. There probably is somewhere out there but according to I think my experience and my understanding… it’s sort of like an expectation that once you make it in life or you get a job or you start making enough money it’s the expectation that you’ll support or provide for your family both immediate and extended. Yeah and it happens. obviously, the first word is black, yeah so it happens… self explanatory… quite a lot in black communities yeah and it’s a big thing.
Yeah it is.
So where did you study? University of Pretoria.
And when you were at TUKS did you like at any point feel like, “yoh! I’m finishing school, and I can see in the horizon Black Tax is waiting for me?” Did you see other people go through that while you were in school? Did it give you anxiety? Did you guys talk about it while you’re in school or did it hit you like just when you finished school?
I think no, we didn’t speak about it. Like actually, funnily enough, I think I only learnt the term Black Tax when I was in second or third year.
Before that I didn’t I didn’t know there was actually a term for it I mean I knew there was that expectation I didn’t know there was a term. Sure. I don’t think I had anxiety for it because I sort of skipped the anxiety stage and I matriculated and after matriculating while in varsity I was working so I was already doing Black Tax I just didn’t know it was Black Tax! I just thought – nah – its normal you send money home because they want money at home. I just didn’t know I was doing Black Tax already.
when one of us makes it we all make it. When one of us gets some bread we all eat bread.
Earlier on we were chatting just in light of what you just said and how for you growing up Black Tax wasn’t… I mean the heavy thing about that term is the word ‘tax’. Yeah. That young people feel like – “yo! my immediate family or my extended family is taxing me!” But for you you say that you didn’t grow up in an environment where it felt like, you know, you were getting text but it was more like an honour – yeah – like that’s how you were raised. Like that when one of us makes it we all make it. When one of us gets some bread we all eat bread. Can you share your experience? Like who taught you that? What was the lesson and how did it hit that Black Tax term head-on – you know what I mean – what you’ve been taught and now you are like ‘Black Tax’ I wasn’t taught that but – yeah – you know what I mean.
A Debt of Gratitude
I think it goes back to my background. So, I was brought up by my grandparents because I lost my parents at a young age and when I started living with my grandparents they had been retired and came out of retirement to look after us – okay – so basically they were just like given seven kids like okay here are seven kids you need to look after them.
I always thought about the possibility that they had the choice to send me to an orphanage. They didn’t have to keep my siblings and I
They were in retirement so obviously it was a very big sacrifice on their part and I think even from a young age I understood the magnitude of that sacrifice. That you’re living on pension and you’re good. It’s good enough to support the two of you without giving you any struggles and when you add seven more kids to that then it becomes an issue because you’ve got nine mouths to feed. And plans at like the age of 70. You need to send seven kids to school all the way to varsity and it’s a very heavy burden – yeah – so I always felt a very big sense of gratitude for my grandparents because I always thought about the possibility that they had the choice to send me to an orphanage. They didn’t have to keep my siblings and I.
They made the decision that we’re gonna take you guys in and we’re gonna raise you and we’re gonna give you a better life. So I grew up with the mentality that one day if I have the opportunity I’m gonna give it back to them. Even if it’s not to them I’m going to give it to my siblings that we all had very… we started at a disadvantage and they gave us the opportunity to make up for that so my thinking was always that it’s an honour if I’ve got money I want to give it to my grandparents I want to see my siblings thrive, you know. I wanted to give back it was never that “you have to give back because you’ve got money” and I wanted to keep the money – no! When I had money I wanted to give it to them because I felt gratitude for all that they’ve done for me.
So in other words you your grandparents were the ones who got Black Taxed!
Yeah! At their old age – yeah! Actually yes! They were dealt the Black Tax card!
They were, they were. Its quite an interesting perspective because you don’t hear that from a lot of young black people and it’s not to say that, like, their experience is not valid, cuz other people do feel like they’re getting taxed, you know what I mean, but it’s it’s quite a refreshing perspective and a good insight to kind of hear how you were raised and how that affects this whole this whole topic. But to some level you are a young black professional
And you are sending money home…
The Challenges of Black Tax
How have you been able to navigate that you you’re a young woman, you’re unmarried, you’ve got this – its not technically your first job – second – with the qualification you got.
So my first job was when I had the financial science qualification so this is my second.
So this is your second job. Young woman, unmarried… How have you navigated that? Because you’re still building your life. You’re still thinking about the future you want to get married one day, you wanna have kids one day – whatever the deal may be. So how have you been able to navigate the Black Tax jungle basically?
For one it’s not easy. I mean I’m saying that it’s an honour to give back but it doesn’t always feel like that! I mean I think maybe now 50% of the time it doesn’t feel like that. Because I think when I had little it was easy to give – cuz I’m like yeah – but it’s so little I don’t have anything to do with it. So like when your salary increases, and you’ve
got more to give, I think you feel it more!
Coz your heart also wants more things now!
Exactly! And I think that it’s also affected by society. You know, you’re told by society that at the age of let’s say 25, you need to have certain things let’s say a car, your own place, and I’m thinking – okay – I wanna buy a car. OK I can afford the instalment but… also I need to be able to afford to pay for the utility bill at home and buy food at home and make sure everyone is taken care of. So I think at times like that it can be a little… it gives you a negative feeling. You don’t feel like you want to give.
I don’t want my husband to inherit an entire family with me.
Ooh yeah – a lot of the times you don’t feel like you wanna give and I think that also… I think it affects relationships as well because you mentioned the fact – the single thing – and I think it’s always my thinking that if I get into a relationship and obviously one day with the intention to get married – yeah – I don’t want my husband to inherit an entire family with me. So it’s always something that’s like at the back of my head that if I get married let’s just saying the next two years… I’ve still got two people at home that are younger than me that I’m looking after. I’ve still got a grandmother that I need to look after and I need to think about the fact that whoever I’m gonna marry is gonna have like – there’s no way you can’t part us you know it’s not like I’m gonna walk away and be like “listen…”
You’re getting Black Taxed yourself dude!
He is gonna have to adopt my Black Tax with me. So it will be in community of property so he will understand that! So I think it’s not always easy. But…
Clear Boundaries are Essential
What are practical things that you’ve done where you’re like… this has helped. Have you put up boundaries for example?
Have you had the conversation with them to say “yo listen, like I earn 50 bucks and I need 40 of that to like save and do my own things and I’ll give you 10” or like what are some practical things so somebody’s watching this and they’re like “yo, I’m actually stuck” and I want to have a conversation with my family or just practical ways that I can get help with?
Definitely. I’ve put some boundaries in place because unfortunately if you’ve been the person supporting a family for so long they get to a point where they’re comfortable with you being the one supporting it. And I think maybe that’s one of the things that I’ve had a problem with that I’ve been doing it for so long that everyone is comfortable and I’ve had to get to the point of saying listen at this age – because I’ve got like two younger siblings as I’ve said – I tell them at this age you can’t be expecting me to provide ABC for you. You need to do it yourself there’s certain things where I’m like “listen, it’s out of your price range, I’ll take care of it” but I need you to be making an effort to bring something to the table you know I’ve sat my grandmother down and I’ve told her – listen – there’s certain things I can’t afford to do you know how families are as soon as you make it now every time there’s a family funeral they like “yeah but Leah can contribute.” If there is a family wedding they’re like “Leah can contribute!” I’m like no!
And you’re like – whoa – I wasn’t there for the wedding planning
Exactly! What is this? So I have had to put those boundaries in place and be like – listen, if it’s not a need I don’t see a point in it. There’s certain things where I will say to my family like I’ve got extra money I can afford to do this out of the goodness of my heart but sometimes I’m like “no”. It’s not a priority. And I think that’s the problem that because it’s not their money… it’s not based on priority its “I want to brand-new TV – buy one.” So I’ve had to sit down and be like no – I can’t replace everything in the house just because you’re tired of it you’ve had it for two years it’s not a good reason to change it
It still works
Its working. For as long as its working I’m not replacing it.
You are sounding like the parent now! Funnily enough – yes – I feel like one when I have to say such things. So yeah – I’ve definitely had to put those boundaries in place.
Rooted in Christ
So you’re not just an auditor Leah you’re not just an unmarried young woman who’s getting Black Taxed – you know what I mean you’re a Christian
You have your identity rooted in Jesus and how is your faith being impacted or how does it influence you treating this area of your life? Because other people take advantage of that. First of all, they are like, you are a kid in this family but you said you were Christian! Christian people do nice things so why aren’t you doing nice things for us? Do you know what I mean, so how have you how’s your faith helped you like – just walk through these crazy terrains?
I believe that the money I have is God’s money and I am a steward
So I think firstly being Christian doesn’t mean that you should allow people to exploit you. it should never be an excuse that because you’re Christian, we’re going to exploit you. That should never even be a comment made. I think as a Christian you need to use wisdom in the money I spend because if I believe that the money I have is God’s money and I am a steward and the way I spend it should reflect God then it means I need to use wisdom in the way I use it and if someone decides to use my Christianity against me then I don’t think that’s enough of a reason for me to do something. sometimes being Christian means saying no.
Because I think at some point – I was having this conversation with a friend of mine a few days ago – and I was saying to him that sometimes I need to say no so that I can equip you with the skill to do it for yourself.
It doesn’t help me to keep giving you something and then if, God forbid, someday something happens to me you don’t have the skill to do it for yourself
The Pressure of Society
You know? And I think another way it influences me those times when I’m just like “but God I can buy a car!” I can have an entire new wardrobe!
Because you did speak about the fact that society also just puts a burden on you. You’re at a certain age therefore you need to have this…
if I say I’m finding my identity in Christ and that he defines what I am then I don’t need to subscribe to society’s standards.
I think during those times it’s if I say I’m finding my identity in Christ and that he defines what I am then I don’t need to subscribe to society’s standards. I don’t need to have a car at a certain age because society says that. I don’t need to be let’s say married at a certain age because society say that. I mean my identity is found in Christ therefore I don’t need to feel… granted you still feel it…
But it’s it’s not as heavy a burden what other people think about me. I think also when I want to say no to giving money back I think I also remember the fact that… you know what, Jesus said I must love my neighbours and
that means that sometimes I need to sacrifice my wants and my desires and prioritise someone else’s needs because I need to also remember that in that action I’m revealing Christ. Sometimes that is what gives me the opening to speak the Gospel the fact that I’ve done this action for you. so yeah – it’s not always easy but I try to keep it there – I’m like – OK – Jesus, Jesus!
Giving Back with Wisdom
That’s cool man! So if there’s a young Black Christian out there who’s like “yo man! I’m I don’t know how to deal with all of this” what would be a word of encouragement from you to them?
Firstly I hate to say this – we must remember that the Bible does call us to serve others.
Why do you hate saying that Leah?
Because sometimes you don’t want to do it!
Like, a lot of the times serving others means sacrificing your own desires and it doesn’t come easy to us. But as
Christians the Bible does call us to serve others which means that I think Black Tax is a responsibility. You need to be giving back to people. Whether it’s immediate family, extended family it is our responsibility. But I also think
we need to use wisdom in the way we give back. it doesn’t mean that every single desire someone has you need to pay for. I think use wisdom in saying yes and putting boundaries in place so you can be like “I’m not gonna contribute to this.” There’s certain things you should provide with and then there’s certain things you shouldn’t but also stay within your means. I don’t think that it’s wise for me to go take out a loan
Because my family wants a brand-new car. You know I think give what you can give but give with your heart.
Amen! Amen! I think that’s good! Thank you so much man and yeah – excuse the noise there is a bunch of kids walking around and making a lot of noise. But that’s from us here at The Gospel Coalition Africa Podcast. My name is Blaque Nubon. I hope you are encouraged by that and again please do check us out on our website go on our social media – you can find us on Instagram on Facebook let people know!
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Grace and Peace.