Burden or Ubuntu? Black Tax unravels real stories behind the topic

We are familiar with words such as blackmail, blacklisting, black widow, black market, black sheep, blackout and black book - and the associated negativity attributed to the word black.

What about black tax? Is it also a term constructed from the same mindset that views all things black as ugly, bad, sinister, dodgy, illegal, cursed and unwelcomed?

Are we reducing acts of kindness, care, support, love, upliftment and community that have shaped black South African and - indeed African - life to a hashtag?

Is ubuntu the new tax? Is this act of giving - expected or unexpected, voluntary or coerced, direct or indirect, appreciated or unappreciated, welcomed or not - really is tax?

Is this responsibility or "black tax" a consequence of slavery, colonisation and apartheid, which ensured that black South Africans - and Africans in general - were stripped of land and any means to create, grow and pass on wealth to coming generations? Or is slavery, colonisation and apartheid responsible for the erosion of black South African cultures, norms, practices and customs centred around ubuntu?

Award-winning author Niq Mhlongo had such questions in mind when he put together a collection of essays by some of SA's and Africa's finest writers, opining on this responsibility towards siblings, relatives, extended family and in some cases the community or village.

The book, aptly titled Black Tax: Burden or Ubuntu, is a potpourri of views, ruminating on this responsibility to assist family members, neighbours and sometimes the community, depending on how deep and wide your family had to dig to ensure you have a better life.

The book is divided into six parts, which are made up of essays from 26 diverse writers, some award-winning authors, journalists, social and literary activists, filmmakers, and analysts of one sort or the other, including the editor of the collection Mhlongo.

It is as nuanced as the issue itself and offers a window to views that range from gratitude to loathing and down-right despair and disdain for the concept of black tax or ubuntu, depending on how it affects you.

Self-published writing sensation Dudu Busani-Dube opens with the essay Black tax - what you give up and what you gain; journalist and author Lucas Ledwaba offers Welcome to a home everyone calls home and book lover Outlwile Tsipane chips in with The door at 1842 Mankuroane Street that let black tax in - an all-too-familiar story. A home where kin and strangers are welcome to spend a night, week, month, year or two.

Some of those who have made that house a home for a while - or longer - have gone on to make names for themselves, others not.

Busani-Dube also notes the perks of "black tax", but cautions that it can be "the biggest enemy of marriage and a source of sibling rivalry".

"Some of us enter marriage carrying large financial responsibilities on our shoulders . Imagine being a newlywed with plans of buying your new home and having as many children as you want, only to find almost half of your spouse's earnings go to supporting his or her family," she writes.

Mhlongo would rather we call it "family upliftment". He writes that black tax is an ugly word. It is after all, he says, "keeping our ancestral spirit of ubuntu alive".

Angela Makholwa agrees with Mhlongo and Ledwaba in her essay Compassion that it is not appropriate to call it tax: "Why are we even calling it 'black tax'? Does taking care of kin and kind now feel like an albatross around our necks?"

Author Bhekisisa Mncube describes it as "a modern form of family investment for the future of the clan", while Phehello J Mofokeng admits to giving his father a monthly allowance. Mofokeng, however, does point out that there are limits to his kindness; he cuts "the umbilicus" at the essentials.

For some, though, it is exactly that, an albatross around their neck.

Poet, and almost medical doctor, except for not doing her community work Nkateko Masinga tells us that "black tax" is not something that black university students start paying when they have completed a degree or secured a job. "Even when you are the recipient of a bursary or loan, a significant portion of your stipend must be sent home."

Needless to say, Masinga did complete her medical studies, but did not do the mandatory community service to earn her degree as a medical doctor. And what a disappointment she is to the family, though she is doing what she loves as a poet.

Ex-convict and author Tshifhiwa Given Mukwevho, who spent 11 years for robbery knows too well what the goodwill of a stranger can do to turn a life around.

Black Tax is a gem. It is an insightful piece of work that took Mhlongo five-months to compile - a feat given the quality of the contributions. It is essential reading for anyone who is interested in the real stories behind the hashtag.

Black Tax is published by Jonathan Ball Publishers

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