The black middle class story that is not being told in SA

2011-10-29 09:38

Every few years – months even – accusations and voices of doom emerge that our democracy has yielded very little economic freedom.

Every so often, we are confronted with headlines that portray the country in which we live either as one with men and women of enormous wealth and opulence (it’s enough to turn your stomach) or a poverty-stricken country whose children go to bed on empty stomachs.

We have generally come to regard our republic as a country of two halves – the haves and the have-nots.

But I dare say that this is a gross misrepresentation of our country.

Yes, there is no doubt that the advent of democracy and the policy of black economic empowerment (BEE) have brought with them the emergence of a black elite.

These are the people who have dominated newspaper headlines because of the BEE deals they have signed and the millions of rands they have made from government tenders.

In recent years, they seem to have gone out of their way to rub our noses in their crass materialism.

They have thrown lavish parties at which they’ve used women’s bodies as plates, for example.

Yes, we generally despise them and are well aware that their wealth has been acquired as a result of their political connections and that their social mobility depends on the ruling elite for survival.

This is the much-disparaged class that has come to be known as either the “usual suspects”, the “tenderpreneurs” or, of late, the “sushi kings”.

There is also no denying that we have a massive economic gulf between the rich and the poor, and that the stories of blatant corruption stand as a constant reminder that the poor are excluded from the feeding trough.

There is, however, a story that is not being told.

This is the story of the millions of black people whose living standards have been improved by our democracy.

These are ordinary human beings whose migration from the townships would have begun in a rented flat in Hillbrow or moving into a garden flat in Yeoville before purchasing a property in the northern suburbs.

Some had already begun enjoying middle-class status in the 1980s through the acquisition of property in areas that the apartheid government had identified for the black middle class.

These include Spruitview, Diepkloof Extension and Pimville.

These are people whose only mode of transport back then would have been a taxi or a train, and who have now gradually moved up the social ranks to have a top-of-the-range car among their possessions.

There are many, myself included, who can remember very well a world in which the so-called upwardly mobile black family possessed only one car.

This notion is obsolete today.

Their children now attend schools in the suburbs and they no longer have to travel miles from townships to
get an education.

These are professionals who, by virtue of their academic qualifications, hold top and well-paying positions in both the private and public sectors irrespective of the policy of affirmative action.

There is much debate as to whether the advancement of blacks in the workplace has translated into real power. That, however, is a debate for another day.

What remains is that there exists this massive group of people, referred to as the black middle class, who are quietly going about their business and whose success the ruling party would prefer not to attribute to the ANC.

» Khoabane is an entrepreneur

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