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Umsebenzi Online

Volume 8, No. 2, 4 February 2009

In this Issue:


Red Alert

On our political and ideological tasks in relation to the black middle classes

Blade Nzimande, General Secretary

The formation of Cope by the Gang of 3 has been cleverly manipulated by this grouping and sections of the media to project Cope as the best political representative of the black middle classes in South Africa. This is indeed a deliberate political fabrication, as demonstrated by how various components of black professionals, including some of their leading organizations, have both endorsed the ANC Manifesto and roundly rejected the right-wing opportunism of the Gang of 3 on, amongst other things, affirmative action.

The aim of this political posturing by the Gang of 3 and their company in falsely projecting itself as the true representative of the black middle classes is aimed at achieving two objectives. Firstly, the aim is to sow confusion within the ranks of these classes and cast doubt on the ANC. Secondly, the aim is to push the ANC towards abandoning its leadership role in relation to these classes, on the grounds that it has already lost the ground in representing their interests. We must not be fooled!

It is indeed true that the Gang of 3 is trying very hard to mobilize the black middle classes, primarily using its patronage networks it built whilst still in the ANC and government, including some of the huge tenders it offered to some individuals within the black middle classes. However the truth remains that the ANC still remains the primary organization that represents both the immediate and longer term interests of the black middle classes.

However, our entry point to these matters should not be raised from the standpoint of what opposition parties are saying or not saying. It is important for our movement as a whole, including our own Party, to continuously engage and discuss the political and ideological tasks of the movement in relation to the black middle classes, This ongoing debate and discussion must include ongoing analysis of the character, changing social composition, size and the broad ideological orientation of the black middle classes in South Africa today.

For the purposes of this piece, I am not going to delve into the complex and vexed question of the class boundaries between, on the one hand, the middle class and the working class, and, on the other hand, the bourgeoisie; important as this question maybe particularly for a country like South Africa. For example in a country like ours there is some overlap between certain strata of the working class and the middle classes. For instance, whilst in many other countries nurses and teachers are regarded as part of the middle classes, these strata in South Africa have largely identified themselves fully with the working class and also act as such.

There is no society without its own middle classes, whether capitalist or socialist. These classes normally play an important role in society, given their education, knowledge, skills and their location both in the state and the private sector. Middle classes are neither inherently progressive nor reactionary, but are always a subject of contestation between the bourgeoisie and the working class. The political outlook and ideological orientation of the middle classes are often a reflection of the balance of forces between these two primary class contenders.

Historically in South Africa, the middle classes, just like the working class, were racially divided, with the white component of the middle classes generally siding and successfully co-opted by the white capitalist classes and the apartheid state. The small black middle classes under apartheid were heavily restricted, with definite limits to their growth and upward mobility. It was for these reasons that those classes generally identified themselves, in various ways, with the anti-apartheid struggles, with the exception of those sections of the Bantustan middle classes who benefitted enormously from their control of the Bantustan state apparatuses, including monopolization of the limited business opportunities in the former Bantustans.

In the wake of the 1994 democratic breakthrough, the majority of the black middle classes did not abandon the ANC, but instead saw in the ANC-led government a vehicle to expand its opportunities, both for the existing and aspirant sections of the black middle classes.

Indeed, there has been significant growth of the black middle classes since 1994. This is not, in itself, a negative development, as some ultra-left elements sometimes argue. Instead it is a development that is to be welcomed and reflects some of the advances being made in the deracialisation of the managerial and professional ranks in our country. The growth of the black middle classes has been faster in the public than in the private sector.

The black middle classes continue to support the ANC, precisely because the continued colonial trajectory of our economy continue to constrain a rapid reproduction of these classes, despite the many gains made since 1994. Whilst there have been many positive changes to South Africa's workplaces, the gender, racial and class composition of this workplace is far from being transformed. Because of this, we should also not exaggerate the size of the black middle classes, despite enormous growth since 1994, but also should not underestimate its growing influence since then.

The ANC, as a multi-class liberation movement, has always understood that one of its key tasks is that of uniting all those class forces that have the deepest interest in the transformation of our society in favour of all the classes previously oppressed under apartheid. To achieve this objective, the ANC has defined the working class as the leading motive force in the national democratic revolution, because of its organizational muscle, revolutionary traditions and as constituting the majority within the oppressed classes. To this end the ANC correctly defines itself as disciplined force of the left with a working class bias. Without departing from its working class bias, the ANC continues to have the responsibility, in the current period, to have a dynamic engagement and mobilization of the black middle classes to be part of our broader reconstruction and development agenda of our democratic revolution.

In the current period, the loyalties of the black middle classes are being contested, on the one hand, by a capitalist agenda that aggressively promotes an unfettered 'free' market as the only economic path for South Africa. This capitalist agenda continues to reinforce most of the colonial features of our economy, and continuously threaten to roll back the many gains made since 1994, including gains made by the black middle classes. It is an agenda that seeks to promote a black middle class that is nothing more other than an appendage to the dominant white capitalist class.

On the other hand, our revolution seeks to place the interests of the overwhelming majority of our people - the workers and the poor - at the centre of our developmental agenda.

Arising out of the above, a key challenge for our movement in relation to the black middle classes is that of harnessing its skills, knowledge and capacity towards the achievement of our overall developmental objectives, job creation and eradication of poverty. However, in order to achieve this we need to deepen the struggle to transform our current colonial economic trajectory that tends to focus the attention of the black middle classes exclusively on a path of chasing the big deals and dreaming of joining the big league of the white capitalist class.

It is of no use for us to complain about the growing corrupting culture of personal accumulation and glorification of individual wealth, whilst our black economic empowerment model thus far has largely fostered narrow 'deal-chasing' private accumulation benefitting only a few. For instance, we need to develop policies that deliberately seek to break the now deeply entrenched notion and practice that upward mobility for public servants only means a move to the private sector.

An important dimension of deepening and consolidating our national democratic revolution is that of fostering public service as a noble objective, engaging the middle classes to move them away from the currently dominant 'MBA mentality'. This must also include appropriate resourcing and incentivisation of our higher education institutions to promote developmental studies and curricula that prioritise skills and knowledge production in line with our objective to build a developmental state.

It is on these and other related issues that our movement must continuously engage and seek to provide leadership to the black middle classes. And it is only the ANC that is best placed to successfully carry out this task.