Key Points:

  • South Africa’s emerging African middle class is a positive sign demonstrating that affluence has spread to African people whose participation in markets and the formal economy was previously thwarted by apartheid laws.
  • In 2004, the Human Science Research Council calculated that the African middle class, including non-manual and white-collar occupations, comprises about 2.5 million people.
  • Two factors have fuelled the widening economic participation of the emerging African middle class: the ‘silent revolutions’ of opportunity that capitalist growth and the expansion of markets has brought, and legislated advancement through policies of affirmative action and black economic empowerment.
  • A middle class independent of the state and supportive of private enterprise is indeed a vital ingredient for sustained economic growth and political pluralism.
  • The first wave of the emerging African middle class – largely formed by the transformation of the public sector – has not yet created a middle class that is sure of itself and its relations with other forces in society, particularly the private sector.

Op-ed: Banking on the middle class

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