Black Middle Class Values Money, Not Social Responsibility

Cape Times (South Africa), April 11, 2007 | Go to article overview
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Black Middle Class Values Money, Not Social Responsibility


BYLINE: Ebrahim Harvey

There have been progressive middle classes in history, but how does our own new black middle class rate after 1994?

Most of this class have become physically and socially disconnected from the working class they had their roots in. The reason is that class has become the most mesmerising and destructive force within black communities since 1994, exerting powerful centrifugal tendencies that have had divisive and polarising social consequences.

Whereas under apartheid oppressive conditions bred unity and solidarity in black communities, today growing social differentiation has led to individualism, middle-class aspirations and discrimination against poorer black people.

Ours is a middle class that cares little about what happens to the poor communities its members left behind in the townships and the ongoing struggles they face.

Neglected and denied by racial capitalism for so long, today their pursuit of money, wealth and comfort bears an inverse relationship to the depth of poverty, oppression and squalor most of them suffered under apartheid.

In other words, after the long apartheid nightmare they just had to catch up with the white middle classes as quickly as possible, and at all costs. After all, the ANC had come to terms with our capitalist masters, and former stalwarts of the liberation struggle were now multi-millionaires.

A middle class which still has strong community and civil society links and does not look down on the working class - despite its own class interests - is a progressive one. The mere occupation of positions in the private sector does not make a progressive middle class. This requires conscious political and social involvement in a multiplicity of civil society projects aimed at social transformation. Such a middle class has an important role to play.

What are the signs of the emerging black middle class? Shopping mania, luxury vehicles, big houses, a keen material acquisitiveness, flash living styles, top private schools for the children, a dash of acquired English accent to boot.

However, there can be no moral revulsion against these developments. No, these are progressive de-velopments, seen against the background of where we come from and inevitable against the background of the negotiated settlement.

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