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.