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few years ago my sis­ter-in-law in­tro­duced me to her friend, who, at 25, had just fin­ished her master’s de­gree and was com­ing to me for help.

I said: “If you are look­ing for a job in the media, I pos­si­bly could help, but see­ing that you are into mar­ket­ing, I am stumped.”

“No, Bra Fred!” she said, shocked at my as­sump­tion, “I am not look­ing for a job. I was just won­der­ing if I should per­haps go ahead and do my PhD, or if I should take the next year off, you know, so I could travel over­seas and stuff.”

My armpits sweated; my ears itched; my lips trem­bled. A num­ber of ex­ple­tives rose to the tip of my tongue: what had this nar­cis­sis­tic nin­com­poop just said? This con­tu­me­lious flib­ber­ti­gib­bet was pok­ing fun at me! Her dilemma was whether she should do her PhD or travel over­seas? And she was only 25. And she was black!

Did she not know that, at her age, I was al­ready four years into the world of em­ploy­ment? I wanted to tell her that when I fin­ished my jour­nal­ism diploma at 21, my par­ents did not have to re­mind me that, be­ing the eldest of eight chil­dren, and now that I had “fin­ished school” – no talk about hon­ours, master’s or doc­tor­ates here – I had to find a job so I could put two of my sib­lings through var­sity, and the rest through school.

I know I speak for many when I say that, with our first salaries, we have to ei­ther de­mol­ish the shack our par­ents live in and build a proper house, or ex­tend the ex­ist­ing gov­ern­ment-is­sue four-roomed house into some­thing big­ger, some­thing more live­able.

The per­mu­ta­tion of our in­debt­ed­ness to our im­me­di­ate fam­ily dif­fers from case to case – but it is there.

If you don’t have sib­lings who need to be put through school, then you have to pay the loan that your par­ents had to take out to put you through school. Or you have to re­pay the aunt or un­cle who con­trib­uted to­wards your var­sity ed­u­ca­tion.

That’s black tax, unique to us. I’m not say­ing, how­ever, that all white peo­ple are trust fund ba­bies born with sil­ver spoons in their mouths.

I know some white guys who, upon fin­ish­ing var­sity, have to pay off their study loans, but that’s it. They don’t have to fix their par­ents’ shack, in­stall elec­tric­ity at home, pay off their par­ents’ med­i­cal bills – or, in­deed, pay some neigh­bours who would have con­trib­uted to­wards their univer­sity ed­u­ca­tion.

Yes, in some vil­lages, neigh­bours will de­cide they want a grad­u­ate in the com­mu­nity, so they put their heads to­gether and sup­port so-and-so’s child.

No one is cel­e­brat­ing this black-tax al­ba­tross. When Afrikan­ers were emerg­ing from English op­pres­sion, they ex­pe­ri­enced some­thing of this sort, where fi­nan­cial obli­ga­tions had to be shared be­tween par­ents and their chil­dren.

To turn things around, the Afrikan­ers started co­op­er­a­tives and build­ing so­ci­eties to sta­bilise fam­i­lies and build the com­mu­nity, one brick at a time.

These mi­cro-ven­tures, in turn, grew into for­mi­da­ble en­ti­ties such as the Saam­bous, San­tams, San­lams and Nasperses of this world.

I am happy that, with each gen­er­a­tion, the shack­les of black tax are grad­u­ally fall­ing off our fig­u­ra­tive wrists – as they should.

I know that in my house my chil­dren won’t have to pay for each other’s ed­u­ca­tion. They won’t have to fix my shack. The only black tax that they might have to cough up would be to­wards the Count Friedre­ich von Mn­tungwa whisky fund and mis­cel­la­neous con­tin­gen­cies.

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