A Touch of Class

South Africa’s ’emerging black middle class’ seems to get a lot of press in certain quarters. While consumer studies convince us of this growing phenomenon, there is another argument that the divide between the rich and poor remains strictly racial: poor blacks on one side and rich whites on the other. While it is irrefutable that unemployment and poverty plague large sections of the population (proportionately this constitutes a black majority) the visibility and presence of new class structures in South Africa is not coming up for scrutiny beyond the racial categories we inherited from apartheid.

It seems that these historical economic divisions are evoked to serve strategic political objectives, and often deflect attention away from the developing class structures linked with budding democracies. Returning exiles, the nomenklatura in government, and a new generation of educated black individuals who have access to employment and business opportunities previously denied them, all challenge us to re-examine class past the political agendas of those that mediate the debates around race.

This development of new class structures in the post-colony and in developing democracies is by no means unique to South Africa. The case of Latin America and the changing class structures in Eastern Europe offer an opportunity for invaluable comparison.

In Latin America, the classical Marxist class structure is in part replaced by categories of ‘elites’ in society who have certain privileges secured through new governmental structures. These are not individuals, but groups of people in influential positions across government and business. They are able to affect change while reaping the economic benefits of their privileged positions.

Influential elites in both Latin America and Eastern Europe also exist in the church, military, and amongst the leaders of political movements on the populist left and right. These latter categories of elites are potentially sites of growth and evolution in South Africa, depending on political and economic advancement.


It will be interesting to see how the growing number of evangelical churches might offer a space for new forms of economic elitism.

Observation of our neighbouring states reveals the impact of military elitism, where these groups can either incite revolution or secure political persuasion. This form of elitism is often self-serving and secures economic benefits from almost any quarter, regardless of the ideology represented by the faction. While the military structure in South Africa right now is fundamentally different from countries in Latin America or neighbouring African states, a more revealing analogy might be arms manufacture and sales in South Africa.

Perhaps the most significant development in leftist movements in recent times in South Africa has been organised around the issues of HIV/Aids. This site is symbolic and vital to the evolution of classes in society because it resurrects the classical Marxist model, which talks not only of class struggles but classes in struggle. Here the interests of political elites are in direct contestation with the ideological, legislative and economic rights of ‘other’ classes. In the case of the debates about the management of the HIV/Aids crisis, this ‘other’ class is imperative to the development of society as a whole because it forces the elites (in this case elites across the board) to be accountable to the democratic development of the society.

Dr. Mistry is Head of Television in the Wits School of Arts at the University of the Witwatersrand, where she teaches a range of courses in television theory and production, film analysis and history. She has worked as a filmmaker in New York and Vienna. Her research interests include public and community access broadcast. She holds a Ph.D in Cinema Studies from New York University.

Subscribe to the M&G for R2 a month

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

And for this weekend only, you can become a subscriber by paying just R2 a month for your first three months.

Related stories

SA cinema needs to set itself free by retelling the country’s stories

The journey of South African film has been a tumultuous one, with a disjointed history and an uncertain future.

Beyond Homeland Nostalgia

South Africa's Indian community is being fed with images of Bollywood and homeland culture that are way off the mark, argues Dr. Jyoti Mistry. To grab the potential of this niche, research and hard facts are desperately needed.

Power’s Changing Shape

In a conversation with <i>Mail & Guardian</i> editor Ferial Haffajee, Dr. Jyoti Mistry explores the implications of the appointment of a black female to one of South Africa's most important editorial roles.

Burden of history

<em>[email protected]</em> from Weave is an anthology of short stories, poems, diary entries and sections from plays and screenplays. It celebrates a generation of women who have dedicated themselves to the struggle for liberation from apartheid and to challenging patriarchy in their communities. Jyoti Mistry reports.

Regional TV’s Guts

The advertisers have voiced their concerns, but, insists Jyoti Mistry, regional television's commercial viability is also tied to the content.

Who’s black, anyway?

Jyoti Mistry tackles the fundamental problems of pigeonholing certain media in a 'black' box. How can it be of any use in a class conscious, disparate and evolving society where the vast majority is black?
Advertising

Subscribers only

Q&A Sessions: Frank Chikane on the rainbow where colours never...

Reverend Frank Chikane has just completed six years as the chairperson of the Kagiso Trust. He speaks about corruption, his children’s views and how churches can be mobilised

ANC: ‘We’re operating under conditions of anarchy’

In its latest policy documents, the ANC is self-critical and wants ‘consequence management’, yet it’s letting its members off the hook again

More top stories

Covid-19 stems ‘white’ gold rush

The pandemic hit abalone farmers fast and hard. Prices have dropped and backers appear to be losing their appetite for investing in the delicacy

Al-Shabab’s terror in Mozambique

Amid reports of brutal, indiscriminate slaughter, civilians bear the brunt as villages are abandoned and the number of refugees nears half a million

South Africa’s cities opt for clean energy

Efforts to reduce carbon emissions will hinge on the transport sector

How designing ‘green’ buildings can help to combat the climate...

South Africa’s buildings account for 40% of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions. But the City of Johannesburg’s new draft green buildings policy aims to change that
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…