Could Black Diamonds vote DA?

2014-04-10 00:00

THE question regarding which political party best represents the interests of the black middle class in post-apartheid South Africa remains largely unanswered.

The black middle class in South Africa was coined as “Black Diamonds” by the Unilever Institute in 2004. The black South African middle class is younger, compared with the much older white middle class.

According to a University of Cape Town Unilever Institute report released in 2013 led by Professor John Simpson, despite the recession, South Africa’s black middle class continues to expand. In the past eight to 10 years, South Africa’s Black Diamonds doubled from eight percent to 16% of this population segment, and their spending power to a gigantic R400 billion. In 2004, 1,6 million black people were part of the middle class, comprising five million people. Based on a study conducted in 2012, this number rocketed to 4,2 million — a whopping 240% growth in the back middle class.

The growth of the black middle class has been fuelled by access to higher education. According to Simpson, there is a huge commitment to go to university by Black Diamonds, as this group sees education as the stepping stone to everything. Black Diamonds earn between R16 000 and R50 000 per month, have a tertiary qualification, a white-collar job (probably working in government) and are under the age of 44.

The participants of the study defined middle class as having a car, being able to pay off debt, having disposable income, living in the suburbs, shopping at malls, sending children to good schools (private or former model-C schools), having access to the Internet, financial stability and having DStv. The report shows that the vast majority of the black middle class is situated in Gauteng, constituting 46%, followed by KwaZulu-Natal with 18%.

A Black Diamond reads newspapers, watches eNCA News, and listens to Talk Radio 702 and Power FM. They typically understand the political discourse in South Africa and often engage in it. Who did this ever-growing black middle class of over 4,2 million South Africans, who are largely based in Gauteng, vote for in 2009 and who are they most likely going to vote for on May 7?

Congress of the People (Cope) was formed in late 2008 after the recall of President Thabo Mbeki, and there has been a school of thought that most of the Cope voters were part of the black middle class. Cope managed to garner over 1,3 million of the national votes. Cope has since imploded spectacularly with its leadership feuds and running to the courts to resolve disputes.

We have to understand what created the black middle group in the first place. These young Black Diamonds with tertiary qualifications, as seen from the Unilever Institute study, were created by ANC policies. These policies are affirmative action and black economic empowerment (BEE).

The Democratic Alliance (DA) has been bending over backwards to attract the 4,2 million lucrative Black Diamonds who could potentially vote for the DA. Since the end of 2013, the DA has been flip-flopping on its support for policies such employment equity and black economic empowerment. Last week, the DA finally withdrew its support in Parliament of employment equity and broad-based black economic empowerment (BBBE). The DA has sent an unequivocal message to Black Diamonds that it is anti-transformation, anti-redress and anti-social justice, and wants to hinder the growth prospects of the black middle class in South Africa.

The DA, and the white South Africans who support it, complain about high levels of crime, but they are quick to oppose policies such as employment equity and BBBE, which are designed to redress poverty levels among the black African majority.

The black and white middle class groups are not a homogeneous group, even though they might live in the same neighbourhood, work in the same office space and shop at the same mall. As far as the white middle class is concerned, members of the black middle class have not achieved their social mobility through merit, but through unfair policies such as affirmative action, at the expense of their white counterparts. Some members of the white middle class believe that these Black Diamonds have attained wealth and social status through corruption or nepotism, and do not deserve some of the positions that they hold in government or the private sector. There is often a lot of mistrust between these two groupings, but the white middle class expects black South Africans to vote for the DA and not for the corrupt African National Congress (ANC) government.

White DA supporters regard affirmative action and BEE policies as reverse racism. Furthermore, the black middle class often interacts with the white middle class on social media such as Twitter and also on online forums, where insults are often exchanged between them. Even though some Black Diamonds consider voting for the DA, they are often put off by the attitudes of white middle-class South Africans and that is partly why some members of the black middle class are hesitant to join the DA or even vote for it.

There is this notion that when black Africans acquire economic status, access to education and read newspapers, they will gravitate towards the DA. This is not true and amounts to political ignorance. In the same way that Jews will never forget about the Holocaust, black Africans will not forget apartheid.

As the Unilever Report suggests, a large majority of the black middle class lives in suburbs but these people are still very connected to their rural and township roots. Hence Black Diamonds will often frequent places such as Soweto (Panyaza), Tembisa (Busy Corner), and attend chisa nyamas there to relax during weekends, with their flashy cars. Even though Black Diamonds are part of the middle class, they also want to see conditions improve for the black working class and the poor in general. A portion of the income earned by the financially overburdened Black Diamonds supports family in townships and rural villages, where they come from. Members of the black middle class are reminded of the levels of poverty and inequality every time they go home, hence they will continue to support a party that is pro-poor, like the ANC, or even the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), because they are tired of the ANC’s corruption.

In summation, the white DA middle-class supporters think the Black Diamonds should vote rationally for the DA, which is perceived to have superior governance. But they are quick to forget that the policies that DA supporters hate, such as affirmation action, are the ones that turned some black Africans into Black Diamonds. White DA politicians, including their supporters, do not understand the need for redress policies such as affirmation action. Also, they do not understand the dangers posed by economic inequality. Furthermore, the current structure of the economy prevents blacks from participating fairly and gaining ownership of the economy. White business and allegiance (in the corporate context) goes to white South Africans, and black business, by and large, goes to those who are politically connected. The black middle class will vote for a party that will further its aspirations and improve the lives of those left behind in the rural villages and townships.

In its current form, the DA is not an alternative party for them as it is against the very policies that got them to the social status they enjoy. The DA going on about Nkandla and e-Tolls is not enough for the Black Diamonds to make them switch their vote. The DA can kiss the majority of the 4,2 million Black Diamonds votes goodbye to other parties such as the ANC, EFF and/or Cope. — Voices24.

• Cameron Modisane is an auditor by profession and a political animal by passion. He is also a gay-rights activist and social-media junkie. He holds a BCom (hons) degree from the University of Pretoria and a master of commerce degree from the University of Johannesburg.

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