Durban - There is a rapidly growing group of determined, ambitious, confident spenders driving consumption and growth in our pedestrian economy. In just eight years, the black middle class has grown from 1.6 million to 4.2 million adults. That’s the “good news” from the UCT Unilever Institute of Strategic Marketing study, Four Million… and Rising.
Are we heading towards a “raceless” middle class with millions of South Africans chasing a better life and trying not to lose grip on what they have?
Maybe heading – but we are far from there. Thanks to our disparate histories, racial differences are just too deep-rooted. A growing black middle class earning good salaries has not resulted in a cohesive, homogenous “raceless” middle class. The study shows that even the black middle class is far from homogenous. Those who landed there thanks to their parents are different from those who recently arrived by their own means. Personal aspirations, motivations and social circumstances fuel different consumer behaviour and brand choices.
Defining middle class in South Africa takes some home-grown ingenuity. In the institute’s classification, an adult must live in a household with an income of between R16 000 and R50 000 a month, or meet at least two alternative criteria. Of the 8.3 million adults classified middle class in 2012, 51 percent are black, 34 percent white, 9 percent coloured and 6 percent Indian. This is a dramatic shift from the 2004 proportions: white 52 percent, black 32 percent, coloured 10 percent and Indian 6 percent.
There are doubters. Institute director Professor John Simpson was involved with the first black middle class study in the early 2000s and recalls how he was criticised for proclaiming the value of this market – which, he was warned, was “one account away from disaster”.