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Is ‘black tax’ help or a burden?

25-year-old Jolly Batamuriza juggles between her job as a receptionist and her small jewellery business. At the end of each month, she splits her salary and profits for her upkeep and sends the rest to her mother or siblings.

Although this responsibility eats into her savings and can only take care of her basic needs, she is not about to stop. For her, it is her responsibility to take care of her younger siblings and her single mother.

 

This financial support that black professionals are expected to give their extended families is colloquially known as “black tax”. It is called a tax because there is some form of entitlement to its request and blackmail when not paid. 

 

It can rob a person of the ability to build wealth or their career which means fewer opportunities to save for the future, reach financial goals such as buying a house, and creating generational wealth.

 

The burden of ‘black tax’ causes financial distress to many. / Photos: Net

Tessy Kayitesi, a customer care officer at Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning (MINECOFIN), believes black tax is a necessary burden because some parents give their all for their children to get to where they are.

“Whatever you have, you owe it to them so the least you can do is take care of them in return. If it wasn’t for them you wouldn’t be where you are,” she says.

Rebekah Kunda, an entrepreneur, considers this tax as an investment.

“My parents invested in my future so I have to do the same with my siblings. By helping them finish their education, they will have good jobs and be able to take care of their children. That way, I will break the burden for my family.

“What I cannot do is give money to extended family because then, I will be enabling laziness and dependence. Unless there are cases of an orphaned child or sick person, I cannot be giving everybody money because you soon become their ATM,” she says.

Alpha Humura, an insurance broker, believes this tax, for many people, begins in childhood. The years of accruing debts and not investing in their prime years, as they toil to secure their children’s future, eventually catches up with parents when they age, so the children take on the sacrifices as soon as they can. 

“Also in the African setting,” she adds, “parents think their children have to rely on them for everything. That dependence burdens them to poverty and in return expect their children to take care of them. Young people suffer with the cultural expectation that once you start working, you should give something to people who are aged or people who are younger. In the west, most children learn self-reliance when they begin to earn an income as early as their teens, which reduces the burden on their parents.”

Breaking the cycle

Although it has been the family cycle, mother taking care of her younger sister, Batamuriza, does not wish to collect the same from her children.

“Our 20s should be figuring out life and learning from our mistakes. We should be able to spend and save freely so we can be in control of our future by investing in our resources. We cannot do this when the financial distress causes to have no savings or investment money left after having to share their salaries with the entire family,” she says.

Although giving back to parents is a good thing, Kayitesi suggests that depending on your earnings, you can devise a long term investment so that you don’t have worry about their basic needs.

For Humura, if financial literacy and saving are not emphasised, young people cannot break the chain.

“When there is a bad saving culture and high levels of illiteracy, we end up being their social security since they didn’t secure that. We need to think in terms of saving for the future so we don’t pass on this curse of a mantle to our children,” he says.

Rose Mutoni, a tour guide, adds that it is unfair to blame parents for collecting money from their children, since it’s a system they found in place and others only request it because of financial difficulty.

 “Watching your parents giving you everything they have, there is no way you wouldn’t do the same when you can. However, instead of giving handouts, we should be investing in business ideas. A business will keep you afloat when you cannot provide for them anymore.”

She also adds that the current generation should be aware of this chain and phase it out as new generations come, by building a system where people are able to make money and become self-reliant.

editor@newtimesrwanda.com

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