By Moshoeshoe Monare

Blacks are still poor and account for a fraction of the middle class despite their upward mobility and the effect of black economic empowerment (BEE), according to a government report released on Friday.

While the discussion document on macro-social trends in South Africa acknowledges that broad-based BEE, government assistance to entrepreneurs and change in tax structures "have improved the asset profile of black South Africans", "the reality is that the proportion (of blacks) belonging to (middle class) is 7,8 percent while it's 15,6 percent for coloureds, 10,7 percent for Indians and 33 percent for whites".

This is despite a significant and rapid advancement of blacks to the middle class, a phenomenon seen in the current property boom and soaring car sales.

Although there has been a slight increase in the proportion of blacks in the category of legislators, senior officials and managers - from 1,7 percent in 1996 to 2,3 percent in 2001 - "given the massive increase in the legislators category, the trend in the other categories should be dismal.

"By far the most significant proportion of (black) employees remains in elementary occupations, with a disproportionately large percentage made up of women," the document said.

This class - the middle strata - is defined as the most influential layer in "terms of its intellectual contribution, its influence on culture in the broad sense, its role in determining national identity and value system".

The document said the lives of blacks had improved in general due to largely government-driven programmes, such as housing and an increase in social spending, but millions still remained unemployed. The discussion document, which was researched and discussed by directors-general and Cabinet, focuses on:

  • How have the material conditions of South Africans changed since the advent of democracy;

  • How has the structure of South African society changed since then, including the changes of people's social status according to class, race, gender and age;

  • What are the trends with regard to households and families, community organisations and economic relations; and

  • How do South Africans define themselves and how does this affect their aspirations.