Time for the political weight of the black middle class to be felt

21 January 2018 - 00:00 By Jason Musyoka

Since 1994, South African politicians have appeared in public every five years to seek a fresh mandate from citizens. Often, the world over, politicians do not mean what they say during campaigns; they just want to improve their chances of being elected. Later, some democratic elements of civil society remind politicians of their campaign promises, but these promises are usually shelved, to be reused in future campaigns.
In South Africa and similar developing countries, the poor masses, the working and upper classes (labour and capital) are actively courted. Thus, Cyril Ramaphosa needed to win the support of both the unions and the "markets" in order to be elected ANC president, and he won both constituencies.
The vote was close because Jacob Zuma had the poor masses on his side. Some detractors claimed that Ramaphosa was no more than "Mbeki reloaded", an apologist for capitalism. But he is much more than just a businessman. He was the first general secretary of the National Union of Mineworkers and he gave the keynote speech at Cosatu's launch in 1985.
In South Africa, capital and labour are seen as being at opposite ends of the class spectrum and it is a balancing act to keep both onside. President Zuma, having resigned as a member of the SACP in 1990, projected himself as a friend of labour. An ANC delegate interviewed after Zuma's win in 2007 was "very pleased - trade unions will have a voice now". The markets were nervous after Zuma's win and they have not recovered since.In the second half of his presidency, organised labour made a U-turn against Zuma, and the majority of the black middle classes chose the DA. The emperor was left with no clothes, having lost support from three influential constituencies - capital, labour and the black middle class.
The black middle class stands between the workers and the bosses, with about 40% of the labour force, 30% to 35% of employment income and less than 10% of the country's wealth.
It is tempting to call them "bourgeois", but if this means owning the means of production, it is a misnomer.
As a group, the black middle class contributes more than any other to tax revenue - and South Africa collects the 31st highest amount of taxes in the world. The black middle class tends to use private services, given the poor quality of public healthcare and education - and private businesses contribute almost 30% of the country's taxes.
What is more, redistribution policies primarily target the working class, and macroeconomic policies target capital by aiming to stabilise stock markets and the exchange rate, while protecting property rights.
The National Development Plan talks of creating five million jobs between 2010 and 2020, which would benefit organised workers. It aims for 5.4% growth in the two decades 2011-2030. The NDP has fallen significantly short of its target in this respect, but the productivity of capital is seen as being its main source.

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