Black middle class needs to build balance

2014-11-13 13:45

After five years of university study, and with three degrees under my belt, I thought it best to try out the world of work.

Having started at the University of KwaZulu-Natal with a stint studying abroad and leaving with an MA from the Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research, I needed to experiment with the reality of life – formal employment.

I joined the ranks seven months ago and to my delight, the position (and the remuneration) thrust me into the ubersuave echelons of the black middle class.

With youth on my side, a sexy bank balance and Jozi with its endless possibilities as the backdrop, I was afforded a chance to craft my lifestyle; or rather, I could now actually afford to express myself by doing the things I loved.

And I love a lot of things – meandering over the lush green fields at The Winter Sculpture Fair, and enjoying fine wine and appreciating good art at the FNB Joburg Art Fair and the lovely Sanlam FoodWineDesign Fair.

My job also affords me the opportunity to visit prestigious country clubs each month.

After a few months of splurging (and boy did I splurge!) and in the fifth month of being a salaried adult, I decided to venture into investments and savings. I chose to invest in unit trusts through a monthly debit order and tuck away an amount each month into my savings account.

I’ve been patiently attempting to increase my financial literacy and, during this rather adult-like period of my life, I recalled a Nigerian booklet published in the early 1960s titled How to Become Rich and Avoid Poverty. In the introduction, author JC Anorue writes: “This booklet is written to advise men and women who have started or are trying to start life.”

The booklet is an anthology of various essays with titles ranging from Money and Women, Always Guide Yourself with Experience and Lagos Life to Read and Become Wise and, of course, How to Become Rich.

In its moralistic and pious undertone, the key message in the How to Become Rich piece was: “You must know your monthly income and expenses.” Such simple words, but which we young members of the black middle class sometimes tend to avoid like the plague.

Although US economist John Kenneth Galbraith wrote in his book Money: Whence It Came, Where It Went argues that “not much in the history of money supports a linear view of history, one in which the knowledge and experience from one epoch provides the intelligence for improved management in the next”.

I’m not one for self-help books, but I wonder what a South African 2014 edition of the How to Become Rich and Avoid Poverty booklet would look like?

Perhaps it would have essays by Frank Magwegwe, the head of Momentum’s middle market division on personal finance; another piece by Sakhile Ngcobo, the executive head of De Beers’ external and corporate affairs on personal image; and, of course, a two-page spread co-authored by writer Siphiwe Mpye and Coca-Cola’s senior communications manager, Khaya Dlanga, on Jozi life.

A balance of sorts is needed to ensure our young black middle class generation builds sustainable wealth.

But this is not to induce draconian austerity measures. As the Greek sage Seneca said: “As is a tale, so is life, not how long it is, but how good it is, is what matters.”

Beyond tax, savings, investments and other adult-like things, some fun is needed to wash down with a double Jameson and ginger ale at The Island Bar in Hyde Park.

Ngwane is a young member of Joburg’s black middle class

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