Could black diamonds vote DA?

2014-04-07 12:42

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 much older white middle class. According to a University of Cape Town Unilever Institute report released in 2013 led by Professor John Simpson, he states that despite the recession South Africa’s black middle class continues to expand. In the last eight to ten years, South Africa's “Black Diamonds” doubled from 8% 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 skyrocketed 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 Prof 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 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 ex-model C schools) , access to the internet, financial stability and having DStv. The report shows that the vast majority of black middle class is situated in Gauteng, constituting of 46% and followed by Kwa-Zulu 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 as well. With this ever growing black middle class of over 4.2 million South Africans, who are largely based in Gauteng, who did they vote for in 2009 and who are they most likely going to vote for on 07 May 2014.

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 where part of the black middle class. COPE managed to garner over 1.3 million of the national votes. COPE has since imploded spectacularly with their leadership feuds and running to 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 this somewhat 4.2 million lucrative “Black Diamonds” who could potentially vote for the DA. Towards the end of 2013 the DA has been flip flopping on their support for policies such employment equity and black economic empowerment. Last week the DA has finally withdrawn its support in parliament for support of employment equity and broad-based black economic empowerment (BBBE). The DA has sent an unequivocal message to “Black Diamonds” that it 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 white South Africans in general  who support  it often complain about high levels of crime in the country, but they are quick to oppose and shutdown policies such as employment equity and BBBE which are designed to re-dress 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/nepotism and do not deserve some of the positions that they hold in government or 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 like 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 Democratic Alliance (DA) or even vote for them.

There is this notion that when black Africans acquire economic status, access to education, read newspapers they will gravitate away towards to the DA. This is not true and amounts to political ignorance of the highest order. In the same way that Jews will never forget about the Holocaust; black Africans will not forget about Apartheid and most certainly you do not see Jews trying to “join” or assimilate the Germans. What makes white South Africans think that black Africans will want to assimilate their former oppressors? As the Unilever Report suggests, a large majority of the black middle class live in suburbs but these people are still very connected to their rural and township roots. Hence “Black Diamonds” would often frequent places like Soweto (Panyaza), Tembisa (Busy Corner) and attend “Chisa Nyamas” there for leisure during weekends with their flashy cars. Even though “Black Diamonds” are part of the middle class they too want to see conditions improve for the black working class and the poor in general. A portion of income earned by the financially overburdened “Black Diamonds” also finds its way back towards supporting family in townships and rural villages where they originally come from. The black middle class are reminded by 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) simply 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 policies which DA supporters hate such as affirmation action are the ones that made black Africans to be “Black Diamonds.” White DA politicians including their supporters do not understand the need for re-dress policies such as affirmation action also these people 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 is political from government goes to those who are politically connected. The black middle class will vote for a party that will further their aspirations and improve the lives of those they left behind in the rural villages and townships. In its current form the DA is not an alternative party for them since it is against the very policies that got them to this 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 and put an “X” next to the DA. 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.

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