Why black middle class fails to lead

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IOL NM_nm middle class0 REUTERS The black middle class has not stepped up to the plate and taken its place as leaders of society, says the writer. Picture: Siphiwe Sibeko

The black middle class has not stepped up to the plate and taken its place as leaders of society, says Benedict Xolani Dube.

True liberty for any country is measured by the evolutionary advancement of its middle class.

In terms of social stratification, the middle class is the centre that holds and the heart that beats.

Its core mission is that of the custodian, vanguard and torch bearer of society.

This sector of our society constitutes intellectuals (organic and traditional), entrepreneurs, innovators and progressive revolutionaries, and its role in South Africa’s transition in democracy is crucial.

Failure by this sector to honour and fulfil its role leads to anomalies which snowball into serious obstacles. Very often, when the middle class fails to lead, we see evidence of despondency, name-calling, the digging up our collective, unpleasant past and racial rhetoric.

The spontaneous unrest, or what we in South Africa call service delivery protests, are the consequences of middle-class failure. In fact, historical evidence clearly highlights and confirms the middle class as the leader of society.

In this country, the creation of a black middle class, or black bourgeoisie, was, and still is, part of the historical objective of the struggle for freedom. Without a black middle class, the realisation of a critical part of our constitution to create a non-racial society, and the deracialisation of ownership of productive property, will remain a mirage.

The eradication of racism cannot be divorced from the creation and strengthening of the black middle class.

The questions we as a nation need to ask ourselves are:

* In our 20 years of democracy, do we believe we have made comfortable progress or are we marching backwards with regards to these objectives?

* Is a black middle class up to the task of leading society?

* Do we have a critical mass of skilled, knowledgeable and internationally competitive black middle-class members?

* Is our black middle class passive or proactive?

* believe the prevailing socio-economic circumstances in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) suggest the middle class is consistently failing in its mission, which is to protect and be the torch bearers of society.

Economic opportunities are still entrenched in an apartheid stratagem and design, and the pillars of the apartheid economic model seem not to have been shaken.

This economic status quo proceeds regardless of various government interventions.

It is crucial to recall that Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) in KZN is not something new.

During apartheid rule, there was Zulu Economic Empowerment (ZEE), which was advocated by the then Kwazulu government under the leadership of Inkatha Yesizwe.

It is arguable whether the beneficiaries of Inkatha Yesizwe ZEE (IYZEE) made any impact on our society. They failed to tilt the economic scales for the inclusion of African people into KZN’s economic mainstream.

In the past 20 years, we have witnessed a burgeoning of the African middle class as consumers. Subsequently, the South African market coined the term Black Diamonds, which I believe is intellectually derogatory, because it defines the African middle class as infested with an appetite for “bling-bling” consumption.

Although the government has all the necessary tools, laws and institutions to decentralise the economy, ongoing statistics confirm that it is equipping and investing in the wrong calibre of middle-class individuals.

The most worrying factor today is the current discourse on what is now termed “the second transition”. The probabilities are that the trends experienced during the first transition will continue to dominate unless we conduct a frank and honest evaluation of the failures of this period.

Renaming the soapie but writing the same storyline and characters is a futile endeavour.

The lack of innovation among the African middle class has led to them being sandwiched between the government and the white corporate class. How can African people claim to be in power if this crucial sector cannot sustain itself?

As far as I can see, the African middle class has only managed to inflict embarrassment on the ruling class, and especially upon the African people, and it is only fair to ask whether the governing ANC can continue to trust and devote the country’s resources to the current African middle class?

Let’s, for instance, look at the example of the Afrikaner middle class, which succeeded in raising the Afrikaners from the bondage of British domination and turning themselves into a powerful nation. The Indian middle class, through collecting the crumbs that fell from the apartheid table, also managed to raise their communities.

Looking at the current African middle class, it’s very much a case of the more things change, the more they stay the same.

We are witnessing the failure of the post-apartheid African middle class to comprehend its role in society. It seems that it has no coherent and pragmatic agenda.

Instead, there is a prevalence of mediocrity, anti-intellectualism and decadence.

The relationship between knowledge producers and controllers of the means of production is indissoluble. In the present times, business people must be intellectuals.

But the truth is, we have very few intellectual tenderprenuers.

The dominance of any group of people can only be evident when the defeated start embracing its culture and language.

The Afrikaners, after their liberation from the British, scientifically developed their language and culture because they wanted to enjoy true liberty and their own identity.

Education is the primary agency and the main transporter of culture and language. Surely the defeated always adopt the culture, language and mannerisms of the victor?

The victor has always set the bar for the defeated.

My heart becomes heavy when I recall Frantz Fanon’s words: “However painful it may be for me to accept this conclusion, I am obliged to state it: For the black man there is only one destiny. And it is white.”

We need to ask ourselves: Has the adoption of the victor’s culture and language in South Africa now become a priority? Or is it a form of escapism, a way of abandoning the task at hand?

We cannot afford to remain silent on the question of the apartheid-like economic structures in our province.

* Benedict Xolani Dube is a market researcher and head of the Xubera Institute for Research and Development in Durban.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Newspapers.

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