Black diamonds juggle urban, township worlds

By Dominique Herman

Most of the estimated 2,1 million individuals in the black middle class in South Africa feel as if they are dual citizens of urban and township worlds regardless of their residential base, and balancing their "township" and "corporate" selves was a huge part of their collective identity.

This is according to the second Black Diamond study, which has just been released by the UCT Unilever Institute of Strategic Marketing in conjunction with Research Surveys.

As illustrated by Taweni Xaba, editor of The Deal magazine, for whom one recent week began with a stay in a New York City 5th Avenue apartment and ended in her grandmother's village where there was no running water or electricity.

"The majority of black diamonds are still on a major journey of self-discovery. They have come from a time when their self-identity was defined for them by the regime of the day. For years black individuals either fought against or succumbed to (that) definition of their identity. Now, for the first time, they feel truly free to choose their own identity," the study reported.

Cape Town had a small but highly concentrated black diamond population. Without the critical mass it had in Johannesburg, this group felt more threatened and, as a result, tended to gather in "base camps" like Mzoli's in Gugulethu, where they could "reconnect and regroup".

Sello Leshope, director of strategy at Ogilvy, said many in this group saw a new class consciousness emerging.

"A black person from Camps Bay tries very hard to distinguish himself from a black person in Khayelitsha," he said.

About half of those canvassed felt they were misrepresented in the media by marketers. One man that was interviewed said there was not sufficient recognition of the diversity within the black population.

They were either portrayed as leading wealthy and flashy executive type existences or as impoverished domestic workers.

Leshope said black diamonds were under immense pressure to prove themselves in the workplace and led busy lives. They believed success should come with a social conscience and self-made individuals, such as American talk-show host Oprah Winfrey and kwaito singer Zola, were held in high regard. The mothers and grandmothers of black diamonds also ranked high on their list of role models since most of them were raised by women.

The term "black diamond" was coined earlier in 2006 after the first comprehensive marketing study on South Africa's black middle class was undertaken. Director of the Unilever Institute, John Simpson, said it was a population that was growing rapidly, at an estimated annual rate of 50 percent, and currently had an annual spending power of R130-billion.


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