Key Points:

  • CDE’s study of the emerging African middle class was motivated by the belief that a middle class independent of the state and supportive of private enterprise is indeed a vital ingredient for sustained economic growth and political pluralism.
  • Societies in which independent middle classes are prominent tend to display high levels of innovation, an emphasis on choice, reward for effort, talent and creativity, sufficient trust in the system to take risks, respect for entrepreneurship and high levels of individual confidence.
  • One of the most visible signs of South Africa’s democratic revolution has been the spread of affluence to certain categories of African people whose effective participation in markets and the formal economy were curtailed and distorted by apartheid laws.
  • Two factors have fuelled this widening economic participation: the ‘silent revolutions’ of opportunity that capitalist growth and the expansion of markets bring with them, and legislated advancement through policies of affirmative action and black economic empowerment.
  • Many hope that a growing African middle class will take South African society in these directions. CDE’s study provides an interim balance sheet of the prospects of this happening.

Op-ed: Banking on the middle class

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