Black Tax: When Giving Becomes A Financial Burden & Leads to Sibling Rivalry

A few weeks ago, before I left South Africa, I gave a talk to medical students at Wits University and the topic of Black tax came up. One woman accused me of being too negative about the topic.

So I started doing research on the topic asked family and friends about their stance on this and it's been interesting because almost everyone had a hard time finding a positive thing to say about this. 

My dad was the only one who came close to looking at the topic from both sides. 




Black tax wasn't always "tax", it was a way of looking after the tribe and has its roots in compassion, love and wisdom on how to get out of poverty.

It's a way of paying it forward and is not unique to African people, it's practised in Asia and other ethnic communities.

The idea is simple - families need to get ahead - so the eldest or the smartest child in the family, whoever shows the most potential, would be educated.

Often the family will sacrifice a lot to get that person educated, and when that person gets educated, they'll get a better paying job, make better money than their parents and then help educate the next sibling or cousin.

When that sibling or cousin graduates, there'll now be 2 high earning family members, they'll then pool together and educate the next sibling or cousin until everyone is educated.

Now you've moved the whole family into a different income bracket and have built a support base for yourself as well.

In this case we are each other's keepers and we can see how powerful giving and paying it forward can be.




People have started forgetting the original idea behind giving and paying it forward - siblings that were supposed to be allies in building and elevating the family have checked out, amongst other factors: 

i. Sometimes the most educated sibling or cousin is left shouldering most of the family's financial responsibilities and this leads to resentment and broken families

I'm from a broken family on my mom's side because of Black tax. My mom was left shouldering the burden and had to look after her kids, her sister's kids, her siblings and her mom.

My mother felt used and unappreciated and there was resentment and envy galore.

This eventually led her to split from her family; I spoke to my aunt, uncle and cousins for the first time in 17 years this year. I didn't even know my cousins had kids.

ii. The world has changed. Globalisation has added it's own complexities to all economies

The average graduate isn't earning as much as our parents earned when they graduated. A degree doesn't guarantee us a job, let alone a decent income. 

Living expenses have also increased dramatically all over the world so our salaries don't stretch far.

Most young graduates end up feeling pressured and overwhelmed by family financial obligations and start to distance themselves from the very people that would support them when their backs are against the wall. 




When I was 10 years old, my uncle (my mom's brother) came back to South Africa from exile - he came home with degrees and high profile friends in the government.

I was too young to understand it then but his homecoming was also a financial thing for many people in the family. 

For my mom it was a relief - it meant she had someone to share the financial load with.

Up until then my mom was supporting her entire family including my sister and I.

My uncle soon found a job and within 2 years everyone, and I mean everyone in the family, moved in with him - my grandma, my cousins, my uncle, my sister and me.

Until that point, we'd never really lived with the family - my sister and I had always been in boarding school but my uncle insisted we move in with him.

He bought a 21 hectare plot, with several buildings on the land, a park, swimming pool and orchard and we all lived there. 

Eventually my mom decided she needed to move to Johannesburg to be with us. So she quit her job and moved in with us.

It was round about this time that my dad started taking a more active role in our lives.




My mom had no job and started using her savings and investments to stay alive.

And things got really hard. My teens were the worst part of my life. 

I remember seeing my cousins (my aunt's kids) screaming at my mom to pay their university fees and she did, even though she couldn't afford to pay our school fees or buy us food.

(All my mom's siblings have degrees or a higher education qualification.)

I watched my mom lose everything including her car. My mom's car got repossessed because she didn't have R2000 (US$180) to settle her final car payment.

My mom's other uncle (mom's other brother) stole her other car and sold it. He also stole my uncle's car and sold it.

This uncle would also steal furniture and electronics and sell them. All the time.

Instead of sympathy, my mom's sister asked her if she thought she'd never fall and told her I would die without ever owning a car (yes me - I was 14 when she said this).

My uncle was okay - he tried but I've always felt like he never understood what he was up against and it has done irreparable damage to him.

No one told my mom and my uncle that they should put themselves first. Instead they were told to be loyal to the tribe (the family).

My grandmother told my uncle and my mom that they had to forgive their siblings and allow their younger brother to stay.

As you can imagine - the 2 siblings that were supporting the others felt used and all this started to spill onto the next generation (my sister, myself and our cousins). 

Things got bad fast - things often escalated to violence and emotional abuse.

A few years later the family unit totally broke down. 




At 17 I left home and never looked back. I'd never had loyalty to my maternal family. 

My only obsession was to break this legacy of black tax. 

I got student loans and took on 3 jobs to pay for my way through UCT (University of Cape Town).

I worked through every vacation and never went home for 4 years. My mom and my dad never laid eyes on me for 4 years!

I refused to live on campus and always had my own place, rooming with working people because I knew I wasn't going home. 

I sent money home to one person only - my sister.

My sister spent every school vacation in Cape Town with me and I'm forever grateful for that because it changed our lives.

In our teens - we sat down and planned how we were going to educate ourselves and build our lives.

So we came up with a plan - I'd send money and she used that money to study - go to beauty school, applied for an advertising scholarship at Red & Yellow and moved to Cape Town to get her diploma. 

I helped during that time and she got a job and did her share.

After that we cut all support and now have a normal relationship without money tied to it and support each other as equals.

That's how we broke the sibling rivalry and built each other up.




Looking back I realise we did some key things that I will share in later posts.

The most important thing is we came up with a monthly figure, accepted that this wasn't a gift - it was an opportunity and a choice I was making and we were clear about why I was making it.

And there were expectations on how that money would be used and what would come from that. 

We had boundaries, expectations, a time line and both parties understood all these.

My mom and her siblings never had any of this.

We were also open and honest with each other about what we wanted and how we could support each other to get it.





I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below.

How does paying black tax with no boundaries in place, do more damage than good?

What's the emotional and financial cost of "giving" or helping family out financially and having no boundaries or expectations in place?