Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Black tax turns Botswana’s first generation graduates into family ATM machines

If you are a gainfully employed Motswana then you know the drill: Once in a while you will receive a “please call me” SMS from a stranded cousin asking for money or you will be called to a family meeting where you will be asked to contribute towards the funeral expenses of a deceased uncle. That is if you are lucky. Those who are less fortunate are also expected to cough up every month to support their parents and relatives who are less well off.

Every college graduate entering the job market knows how it goes: there’s the normal tax every Botswana citizen has to pay then there is what is referred to as black tax ÔÇô the moral obligation to help family members financially.

Research has shown that Botswana’s first generation graduates (the first extended family member to get a college degree) are suffering the worst of it. Most come from underprivileged families where parents and relatives scraped together the money to pay the children’s way through school. Because their families are poor, they put the children through school so they can be well off and help sustain them. While families look to first generation graduates for financial help, there is also a certain anxiety among first generation graduates that comes with knowing that your aunt, who helped contribute towards your school fees, might not have money to buy a packet of 1kg Millie meal.

Gadifele Molefe a nurse at Athlone Hospital in Lobatse Detailed the burden of having to share her salary with family members until there is nothing left to save or invest. “As the first graduate in my family, I have the moral and cultural obligation to take care of my parents, siblings and even relatives from my extended family. It really hard having to take care of a lot of people all on a single salary and half the time I’m always stressed because I am spread too thin. I barely have any disposable income to buy myself something nice.” She says she sometimes wonders how life would have turned out if her parents were well educated and had good paying jobs.

Gadifele’s situation suggests that for most Batswana first generation graduates from poor families, a college education is not exactly an equaliser. Instead Botswana’s first generation graduates from poor families are losing wealth. Lots of wealth, in fact ÔÇö and in sharp contrast to their counterparts from privileged backgrounds. Losing wealth means losing a cushion against hard times and a springboard for better times; it also means losing a chance to endow the next generation with accumulated wealth.

Besides, first generation graduates enter the job market at a disadvantage and may find it difficult to make it up the corporate ladder. According to a research paper titled Addressing employability challenges: a framework for improving the employability of graduates in Botswana by Mpho Pheko and Kaelo Molefhe, “”anecdotal evidence suggests that the first generation university/college students are most likely to graduate without any employability skills compared to their counterparts (i.e. second or third or fourth generation university students) they are likely to lack professional mentors and family level reference points that could assist them in developing employability skills and in accessing professional networks that could assist them in being placed in professional attachments and internships.”

While first generation graduates start their careers saddled with the obligation to take care of their families their peers on the other hand start with a financial boost from their parents, probably a spare family car and can even stay at home for a while, helping them save on the rental.

Another young Motswana, Amantle Molosiwa an administration officer at Heritage Branding and Marketing Communication Company in Gaborone, says the obligation to take care of family has weighed heavily on her. “I am now in my late twenties and don’t have a house of my own, my aspirations and dreams are pushed to the side because I have to take care of my loved ones. Sometimes I harbour feelings of anger towards my family because my peers have cars and houses and can afford to take their kids to private schools while I’m struggling.

Other twenty year olds don’t have to start from scratch, building their parents houses or even renovating them, we are not all lucky.” She further states that sometimes her family members have unrealistic expectations. “Sometimes my family members think there is more where that came from simply because I’m working, they don’t think I struggle to provide for them, if I can’t provide on a certain amount they automatically think I’m withholding money.”

For a long time, first generation graduates have been pillars of their families, but Botswana’s growing youth unemployment crisis has left the foundation cracked. According to the research paper by Pheko and Molefhe, “in a developing country like Botswana, many family units are highly dependent on the income of first generation University/College graduates, leading to disappointment when their children find it difficult to find unemployment.

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