Do you FINANCIALLY support your parents?
Do you FINANCIALLY support family e.g. siblings, aunts, uncles?
Do you get FINANCIAL support from a family member?
Do you send money to someone monthly or a few times a year?
If you answered yes to one or more of the above then you should read this post on remittances and black tax.
I have been working on this remittances and black tax series for a long time. Black Tax has become a buzz word/phrase since Trevor Noah’s book, but the concept of remitting money back home or supporting parents, siblings, and extended family has a long colonial history. In this first post, I will trace the historical nature of black tax in our communities, particularly for those who come from settler colonies like Zimbabwe and South Africa. The same historical factors are also at play in many marginalized societies around the world.
Most people think of black tax and or remittances as a burden. I get the mental image of someone pushing a heavy load that gets passed on from generation to generation. This mental image is not entirely wrong if we consider the political and historical factors that have made it difficult for most racial minorities or indigenous people to build wealth- even many decades after the end of formal slavery or colonialism.
I do not discount the role of bad financial habits in failure to build wealth, but mistakes and poor habits alone do not explain why millions of people remain in poverty. A lot of hardworking people in the diaspora have good habits, but the weighty responsibility of providing financially for immediate and extended family makes upward mobility a little bit harder.
If you follow me on social media (sorry) or even speak to me for a minute, you will know that I absolutely love Tsisti Dangarembga’s Nervous Conditions. I have dubbed it my book for every condition. So, when I first started thinking about remittances, I thought back to a comment one of my students made when we read the book for class. She said – dang babamukuru was taking care of everyone! But something else that struck me and we know this to be true is that the best profession for black folks in colonial Africa was to become a teacher. Then maybe a lawyer who spent most of their time defending activists against brutal dictatorships. Babamukuru, like many folks in his generation who were also gifted academically, understood that the success of black men (forget women) had a limit. I am quite lucky that I have older parents – my mom had me in her mid to late 30s (which is not old!) but quite atypical. My older siblings are between 12 and 17 years older than me. Most of my peers have younger parents. I also had a guardian who was born in 1926 Rhodesia – he was brilliant – taught me to read a newspaper at just 5 years old – but like many his generation for a long time the best he could do was become a teacher.
There is nothing wrong with being an educator – the problem is that in settler colonies or even in the U.S black people were told that this was the limit. If you have not yet read Hidden Figures, please do so. Black people were also told where to live and how to live. Black people lived in reservations where the land was often arid and agriculture not nearly as lucrative. Families worked really hard to send one or two kids to school. Those two kids, if they were lucky, would manage to get a job in the city, and it became their responsibility to take care of their parents and fund the education of their younger siblings.
The discriminatory housing structure in urban areas also fed into black tax. The black areas were designed to accommodate single men. You can probably see how this type of structure also damaged families. Young couples lived apart from each other for months with the husband working in the city while the wife and kids lived in the village. The men working in the town would often travel back home at the end of the month with gifts and goodies not just for their growing families but for everyone because their success was everyone’s success.
In the 60s and 70s, black people would slowly start moving into the urban areas -mostly into high-density parts of the city. My parents bought their first house in Mabvuku in the 60s. In the 70s they would move into a rental in the new leafy suburbs. My father says they were evacuated within 24 hours when the landlord came for a “check-in” and found more than 20 people in the house. He had assumed that it would be my parents and their 3 children (I wouldn’t be born until after independence – lucky me). My mother has a different recollection, but she also agrees that the house was packed. My parents are the oldest siblings in their respective extended families, so their MANY young siblings (and cousins) had joined them in the city. This NEVER CHANGED much to my distress.
My parent’s story is the story of many of your parents and maybe grandparents.
Independence – UHURU! We are FREE
Just kidding not really-in some ways the economic structures would positively change after independence but not that much. The biggest employer in Zimbabwe and many post-colonial states was the government. The post-independence era should have eased the financial burden on those coming of age in the 80s, but it was not so easy. Indeed, many could now support their parents in the village with less hardship, but it remained the responsibility of older siblings (often raising their own kids) to send the younger ones to school. Life was not too expensive back then, so it was manageable until…
Wait a minute – the WAR was not over – Ghukurahundi
As most families moved on from war and began rebuilding their lives, our friends and families in Matabeleland continued to live in the thick of war. Breadwinners died, young men and women fled home before they could finish their studies. Many of the orphaned children would never enter the mainstream economic system. And thus, many in Matabeleland remained in poverty and black tax has real and long term implication for those who have made it.
ESAP- Hello World Bank 🙂 Structural adjustment programs
I have a lot of respect for the hardworking people at the World Bank. I worked there for a few months and left with a lot of new insight on what the Bank does well and where it fails. ESAP was a total failure.
By the 90s my parents had been living in Hatfield for over a decade. My parents were elders in the neighborhood and often adjudicated various issues, including marital disputes. Being the only kid in the house at the time, I was always included (not quite but I could hide behind sofas pretty well- I can hold my breath for a long time) in the discussions. One time, this girl came to report that she had had her ear beaten off by Mai Nhingi whose husband she was having an affair with. It was a bloody affair – literally.
During ESAP, as our government was forced to adjust the economy, a lot of people lost their jobs. There are some valid reasons for why the Bank forced Zimbabwe to do this, but the damage was intense. Quite a few people in Hatfield, which was once home to some of the first black middle-class families, lost their homes. It was sad. When a single person lost their job, the domino effect was felt all the way into the rural areas. To make matters worse, we also suffered a bad drought that season.
When it rains, it pours -HIV?
As if things weren’t already bad – HIV was like drought, ESAP, please hold my beer! I disagree with a lot of the western literature that claims that HIV was a rural disease. People became sick in urban areas and died at home in the village. In Zimbabwe alone, more than 2 million people died. Many of them were young, educated, metropolitan, professionals, and BREADWINNERS! Their children became the responsibility of their siblings or aging parents. Whatever pension or life insurance benefit, most of them left was eroded by inflation in the 2000s.
POST-2000- Land reform, Murambatsvina, 2008
The reason we know that land reform was just about ZANU PF is that the leadership did not crunch the numbers. While much of the conversation has focused on its impact on white farmers, it was the majority of black folks who suffered. Farm workers who did not have an economic safety net and those who lost their jobs as various industries that benefited from agriculture shut down. No doubt land reform was needed, but the focus back then was to bolster ZANU PF not benefit the masses. Just as with the war veterans $50 000 payouts. A reasonable economic position would have been to build homes for war vets and provide free education for their children + health care and support small business initiatives.
Murambatsvina displaced over 700 000 urbanites. May I recommend the Audacity of Hope for a good read on this. Many of those displaced were breadwinners. Many people lost access to ARVs – many children dropped out of school.
Each cycle of political violence would reduce the number of breadwinners, and weaken the socio-economic fabric. The few who managed to emigrate would find themselves shouldering the financial burden for those who were left behind.
USAP is one of my fav scholarship support programs in Zimbabwe. Please donate to edmatters because they do good work and Rebecca Mano is amazing. At some point, it became the rule that siblings of former USAP students could not apply to the program. The brilliant idea behind this proposal was to get new families into the system, and one hoped that those siblings now situated in America would help their younger siblings apply. This would not happen in a relatively stable economy. We would not expect a 21 year old to shoulder the financial responsibility of their parents and their siblings, but this is our reality.
I could go on, but you would stop reading- come back for part two.