Letters to the editor: May 27 to June 2 2016

Black middle class a myth

If there’s a term in South Africa with which I totally disagree and one that exasperates me, just like “born-frees”, it has to be the so-called “black middle class”.

Like “born-frees”, the “black middle class” – commonly known as the “black diamonds” by white capital – has been carefully created to persuade and align black peoples’ thinking in a certain, anti-revolutionary way. 

The so-called “black middle class” is far from being a true, meaningful middle class, as they don’t own the means of production. The white middle class has capital, inherited wealth, paid-up property, assets and owns the means of production. 

The imagined black middle class is heavily indebted, caught up in black tax [the financial burden on young, employed black people of caring for unemployed family members as a result of systematic racism] and has no capital or inherited wealth – it has access to credit but not money.

The so-called black middle class is part of the same group of people who suffer from entrenched institutionalised inequalities, with the lack of transformation in various sectors of our divided country and who are living in a country where neoliberal economic policies are the order of the day, which benefit the white middle class. 

We cannot continue to name our parents middle class as there’s nothing middle class about them. They have not caught up with the white middle class, which is far ahead of them, and which is sad. Because of our colonial and apartheid history, we are still far from having a true black middle class, even though black people constitute the majority of South Africans. 

The black middle class is a very dangerous term and refers to nothing more than 21st-century slaves, who own nothing. But the term gives black people hope, as they think that they have “made it”.

Honestly speaking, the difference between our so-called black middle class and those in lower positions than them is what they materially consume and the access they have to buying on credit.

The “black diamonds” are a bunch who have been carefully targeted by white capital and spend most of their income paying debts, driving cars they can’t afford, contributing to the wellbeing of their less fortunate family members – which the white middle class doesn’t have to worry about – and who eventually have less with which to accumulate valuable assets leading to wealth. 

As South Africans, we need to start being honest with one another and we need to start grabbing the bull by the horns. We don’t have a black middle class. In fact, we have a collective of people who consume a lot instead of saving.  One has to understand the historical background of these people – all they ever wanted was to move away from poverty and get the sense of having made it. 

Black people have lived in a position for centuries where whites have enjoyed living in better areas, driving nice cars, attending the best schools and being near economically viable places. Black people have also wished for that, hence them buying expensive cars, moving to town, changing their lifestyles and having all the things that were previously denied to them, even though most can’t afford it.

Black South Africans who are well off compared with what they would have been need to be educated about what it means to be middle class and the responsibility they will have to take on in order to introduce a real black middle class – and to be the first generation of black parents to accumulate wealth and circulate it within their communities, and leave generational wealth for their families. – Modibe Modiba, Pretoria

The facts about Sassa’s food parcels

My right of reply response M&G blurred lines on Madonsela’s report contained an error on my part. My instruction for the organising of food parcels by South African Social Security Agency (Sassa) officials, on page 8 of the public protector’s report, was in fact substantiated.

But this doesn’t detract from several critical findings, none of which were reflected in the Mail & Guardian’s article Thuli reads ANC the riot act. First, the report found that the event was not a departmental or Sassa event, but was organised by the ANC Youth League “in terms of its own internal resolution and using its own resources”. Thus the claim that it was organised by the state was unsubstantiated.

Second, the food parcels were donated by a private company.

Third, my instruction to Sassa officials was to distribute food parcels at a Sassa event. The public protector’s report found no evidence that I had instructed they be distributed at a Youth League event. Because the handing out of the food parcels by the league appeared to have been sanctioned by Sassa, there was a recommendation that Sassa put clear policies in place to ensure such a perception is not created again.

The article didn’t indicate that, as the report notes, I wasn’t present when the food was handed out.

Omission of these critical findings, and focus only on certain claims, was mischievous selective reporting. I stand by my position that the public protector’s report doesn’t recommend remedial action against me. In the interests of fairness, the M&G should publish the report in full. – Edna Molewa, now minister of environmental affairs


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