Ina Opperman

By Ina Opperman

Business Journalist


Black tax is hitting a generation regardless of skin colour

People of all colours are ending up paying black tax because their parents spent all their resources on raising their children.


Black tax is hitting a whole generation of South Africans regardless of the colour of their skin. It is not only black people who now end up looking after their parents because they do not have enough money saved to retire.

Not that it is any body’s fault, Munya Shumba, financial advisor at Discovery Limited, says; “Parents do not look at their newborn child at birth, wrapped up in soft baby blankets, look at each at each other lovingly and say, ‘honey we did it, look at our retirement plan!’”.

The excitement of watching their baby start walking, or go to high school, is not the euphoria of watching their long-term investment evolve right before their eyes. Moms do not sit at the salon discussing between themselves how to negotiate a pensioner’s allowance with their children once they start working.

The real conversations they have are always about outdoing each other as parents as their kids continue to add to their list of achievements, Shumba says. “Parents have one mission and one mission only: to raise good, obedient children and prepare them as well as they can to be good citizens of the world”

Shumba says his experience as a financial behaviour backs up his theory. At the tail end of a conversation congratulating a client on the birth of a newborn, every single conversation ends with: “Munya, we need to put something together for the child.” By this they normally refer to an investment policy, increasing their life insurance, or updating their Will. “Not once, ever, has any parent expressed their relief at securing their retirement plan.”

ALSO READ: Black Tax: A heavy burden on sole breadwinners

How does it all go so wrong then?

What changes? How can there be such a complete 360֔ turn for a parent to be perfectly aligned to doing everything humanly possible to give their children the very best to now have an expectancy to be supported by them? Were they pretending all of those years?

Of course not, Shumba says. “However, if they find themselves in this position, it is probably because they spent so much time and every ounce of their resources looking after their children while putting their own long-term needs last, often through ignorance.

“In South Africa, this role reversal is commonly labelled as ‘black tax’. Contrary to what the name may suggest, labelling it a black tax by no way means that supporting either your direct or extended family is a ‘cultural thing’. Being born black, does not mean you subscribed to this ‘tax’ from birth and if you’re not black, you are by no means guaranteed to have escaped it.”

Shumba says it is not a “black thing”. If race does not solely determine this “tax”, what is? “In South Africa, my research suggests that the overwhelming majority of black people who work support some of their direct or extended family in some way, but not always.

“Interestingly, many people from diverse racial backgrounds support their parents in a similar way by either paying for groceries every month, paying for their parent’s medical aid, or just a general monthly allowance to help them get by. They obviously do not call it black tax.”

ALSO READ: Black tax survival guide: Getting your financial groove back

Black tax is not even exclusive to South Africa

Shumba says this is also not exclusive to South Africa. “I spoke to friends from other countries, mainly in South America. Many support their parents, siblings and in some cases, their extended family members too. Many shared stories of their family members being hospitalised and turning to them for support.

“Two common threads resembling black tax emerged: the role of employed or financially stable individuals within the family unit and quite crucially, a lack of concern or sympathy for whatever else was going on in their personal lives, especially marital issues because the overall feeling was that “at least you can still make more money”. This dynamic often imposes an emotional burden, compelling individuals to prioritise family support even at their own expense.”

While they do not call it “black tax” Shumba’s South American friends experienced exactly the same phenomenon as many South Africans do and he says its essence remains consistent across regions and reflects broader socioeconomic inequalities more than having anything to do with race.

“Clearly, it is not a “black issue” even if it sometimes feels like it in South Africa. The common denominator is simple: if your parents are self-sufficient, regardless of your race, you most likely do not support them and if they are not, no matter what race you are, in some way, you probably do.”

Shumba points out that it is important to get the obvious out of the way. “Broadly speaking, even 30 years into democracy, largely financial inequalities remain between black and white people in South Africa.

“On a large scale it is grossly unfair to compare black and white households in this nation and have an expectation they are both as financially robust and astute as each other. It is impossible to eliminate the devastating effects of generations of skewed development and discrimination in three decades.”

ALSO READ: Black tax: How to help family without hurting your goals

Necessary to break the inequality cycle

He says it is necessary to break the inequality cycle. In 2016, a study highlighted the substantial racial wealth gap, with typical black households holding less than 5% of white household wealth. “This is evident from a history where one race had a century-long head start, accessing education, employment and wealth-building opportunities, while the other faced systemic barriers, effectively standing still.”

However, Shumba says it is not about dwelling on the past but recognising its impact on the present and acknowledging the ongoing need for equitable opportunities. “Before entering finance, I was already ahead thanks to my parents’ success but after ten years in the industry, my knowledge has grown exponentially. This raises questions about the financial literacy of the majority of black Africans who did not have similar opportunities for education and exposure to wealth-building strategies.”

He says the real “black tax” is the lack of financial education. “With better understanding individuals regardless of race could make more informed decisions and plan for a prosperous future. Without this knowledge, how could Black parents forty years ago have known the power of investing even a modest amount monthly, potentially leaving a substantial inheritance for their children? Financial education must be addressed to truly tackle the roots of the “black tax” phenomenon.”

There are many other factors that contribute to inequality, including unemployment, crime and load shedding, eh says. These issues pose significant risks to wealth preservation for everyone in the country. Without improvement in these areas, financial education alone will not have the desired impact.

ALSO READ: Is black tax a burden or ubuntu?

How to prevent your children form paying black tax

Black tax is not going away anytime soon and Shumba says regardless of race, if you pay “black tax” and wish to break this cycle for your children, consider these three points:

  • Start early. Prioritise long-term investing by starting early with whatever you can afford and staying consistent. The roadblocks that existed decades ago no longer exist today and through a few clicks online and small sacrifices each month, you can secure a bright future for yourself by deciding today.
  • Know your limits. If you are a giver, you must remember to know your limits because takers do not. It is OK to say “No”. In fact, it is essential to say “No” and to say it fairly often, otherwise you will find that you will be unable to set aside funds for your retirement and take care of your own old age. There will always be more people in need than you will be able to care for.
  • Budget for it. Make your “tax” a part of your monthly budget. Decide on an amount upfront of what you are prepared to give to others in need. This could be similar to tithing in which people opt to donate 10% of their income to their religious institution or to a charity each month or it could be in addition to that. But decide on an amount that you are comfortable with, that is within your budget, that still allows you to save for your needs and requirements. And then stick to it.

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