The have been a lot of pressure exerted on South Africa middle class , most especially the black middle class, often referred to as the black diamond, to become more politically conscious and be the watchdog of society by monitoring government’s performance and holding it accountable. This pressure emanate from the perception that, those in the middle class can pose a threat to a government due to their acquired knowledge, financial means and social status. As a result, the middle class also hold the power to force a government to deliver on the needs of the entire population.
Looking at the composition of South Africa’s middle class, their interests and aspiration, one wonders how close and willing are they from heeding to such a call. First of all, it’s important to consider the fact that, the growth of the middle class in South Africa is as a result of various social and economic policies formulated by the current African National Congress (ANC) government. Despite failing to deliver in so many areas, the government has implemented programmes that has drawn many blacks (including coloureds and Indians), who where previously disadvantaged, into the rank of the middle class. Among these programmes is the Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) policy. Although this policy has only benefited a few, it has certainly increased the number of black professionals holding senior position in both the public and private firms. The 2011 report compiled by the Employment Equity Commission reveal that, 33.6 percent of blacks occupied senior management position in various companies. This is an increase of 6.8 percent, when compared to the 2006 report.
The South African government, which is the country’s biggest employer, has also manage to create a conducive environment for foreign investors to set up firms in South Africa with the expectation that a substantial number of black professionals will be employed in these firms. Further more, the government has put in place stringent labour laws which protects the rights of workers and prevent any form of exploitation.
So, under the current administration it’s clear that South Africa’s middle class is better of, which makes it even more difficult for the middle class to overcome the apathy of political participation.
But, apart from being distracted by government benefits, the middle class has also turned out to be more self orientated. Individuals are more determined to build wealth for themselves rather than look out for the society as a whole. They are driven by material interests whereby, the desire for indulging in the most expensive brands is much greater than that of doing something to contribute to social upliftment. This behaviour though, is not unique to South Africa, it is the case in many parts of the world. In the United State of America(USA) ,for example, the capitalist driven middle class rarely pressure their government to implement policies that will narrow the gap of income inequality at their expense.
Having said this, it does not necessarily mean that the middle class cannot contribute to poverty alleviation and add more people in their rank. Again, taking example from the USA, the thriving culture of entrepreneur has increased the demand for labour. This has allowed millions of Americans to be employed and increased their purchasing power, consequently qualifying them as members of the middle class. Unfortunately in South Africa, the middle class is yet to make the same economic impact as their counterpart in America. The reason being that, the middle class in South Africa is still relatively small and the spirit of entrepreneurship is lacking. Even individuals who manage to set up businesses and offer employment, they often struggle to progress because they do not poses the resources and skills to compete in the market.
Whatever roles the middle class decide to play in the democratic South Africa, it is crucial for them to recognise the fact that, they are living in an environment where the majority of the people are disgruntled. There is a growing anger among the mass because of the feeling that, the country’s wealth is not being shared equitably. This anger may just boil down to a situation whereby people take the law into their own hands and create public disorder, and in a country where disorder reins every citizen is certain to feel the wrath. The middle class must take note.