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.