Bachelor Thesis, 2013
130 Pages, Grade: 1,3
1) South Africa at the crossroad: continuing the democratic path?
2) Theoretical prerequisites: middle class and democracy
2.1) Emerging black middle class
2.3) Relation between middle class and democracy
3) Methodology: A qualitative approach
3.1) Qualitative data collection
3.2) Qualitative data analysis
4) The emerging black middle class in South Africa and democracy
4.1) Understanding of democracy
4.2) What kind of relation?
5) Conclusion: a promising relation
Appendix 1: analysis chart
Appendix 2: interview structure
Appendix 3: transcription of interviews and remarks
19 years after the promising democratic change in South Africa, the countries challenges and disparities remain ubiquitous. The huge majority of black South Africans still lives in poverty, inequality has grown since the end of apartheid, service delivery is a permanent problem and democratic institutions are at least partly weak (Holden 2012: 95).
However, the new South Africa is not only signified by the aggravation of disparities. Over the last years, the emergence of a black middle class became steadily more tangible and is today a mostly undisputed phenomenon (Schrire 2005: 271; Southall 2004: 539; Everatt 2011: 79). Some research has been conducted especially to determine definition criteria and the size of a black middle class (Rivero et al. 2003; Southall 2004; Visagie, Posel 2011; Phadi, Ceruti 2011). The total middle class in South Africa included 29% black South Africans in 1994, while until 2011, their share had grown to 49.8% of the total middle class (Holden 2012: 226-227). In absolute numbers, the black middle class made up five million people in 2011 (Visagie, Posel 2011: 8, 17) while South Africa had a total black population of around 41 million people (Statistics SA 2011). Hence, approximately 8.2% of the black population group belongs to the black middle class.
Although there is research discussing the size of the black middle class in South Africa, neither exists a comprehensive knowledge about the black middle class' attitudes towards democracy nor is there a profound analysis to which extent the black middle class may contribute to democracy (Everatt 2011: 79-80; Southall 2004: 528). In order to narrow these obvious research gaps, this study asks the following research questions:
1) How does the emerging black middle class in South Africa understand democracy? And
2) How can the relation between the emerging black middle class and democracy be assessed or rather does the emerging black middle class in South Africa contribute to the strengthening of democracy in the country?
While these questions are theoretically rooted in the existing research gap, they also bear a profound practical relevance. Currently, a discussion is under way regarding the “risk of a slide into authoritarian rule in South Africa over the next several years” (Ulfelder 2012). This risk is predominantly nurtured by the steadily expanding power of the governing African National Congress (ANC) which has ruled with huge majorities since the end of apartheid in 1994 (Giliomee et al. 2001: 161-162; Southall 2005: 67, 73).
As generally assumed, the middle class is positively related to the development of democracy (Lipset 1959: 83; Barro 1999: 171; Lu 2005: 171). These previous findings based on research in the western world lead to the assumption that also the black middle class in South Africa could be positively linked to the development of democracy. However, a limited body of literature feeds into the supposition that the relation between middle class and democracy in developing countries and particularly South Africa might not be as merely positive as in the western world (Giliomee, Simkins 1999a: 3, 45; Schlemmer 1999: 287-288; ibid. 2005: 11).
Therefore, to find out more about this opaque relation is important because of two reasons: theoretically, the relation between middle class and democracy is insufficiently substantiated for developing countries such as South Africa and needs further enquiry. Practically, due to the recent challenges to democracy in South Africa it appears useful to clarify if the emerging black middle class can be a pillar of democracy.
To answer the arising research questions, this study is composed as follows: the second chapter regards the concepts of an emerging black middle class and democracy a bit more in detail. Furthermore, the theoretical background of this study - the assumed relation between middle class and democracy - shall be introduced. The third chapter on methodology illustrates the applicability of a qualitative approach to the research questions and subsequently turns to the method of data collection and analysis. Following, chapter four contains the actual analysis to answer the research questions: first, the understanding of democracy of the emerging black middle class as drawn from the collected qualitative data shall be illustrated. Second, building on the qualitative data, through the consultation of previous research and quantitative data, the relation between the emerging black middle class and democracy shall be assessed. Eventually, chapter five offers a brief conclusion summarizing the core findings of the study and pointing to remaining uncertainties and areas for further research.
The concepts of an emerging black middle class and democracy are not clear and need some specifications. There is already some work available that tries to frame the meaning of the black middle class in South Africa. These sources are going to be the base for the definition used within this study.
The meaning of democracy is broad. Hence, the section on democracy is going to explore some attributes that are part of a general understanding of democracy. The last section gives an overview on how middle class and democracy have been related to each other in previous research.
A first approach of defining the middle class just leaves it to every single individual to determine his or her middle class status. Lu (2005: 163) describes such a method as a subjectivist approach: “middle class is identified based on an individual's belief or perception that he or she belongs to the middle stratum of a certain society” (Lu 2005: 163). Obviously, such an approach suffers from a certain degree of randomness since it does not outline any clear a priori definition criteria.
A more “objectivist approach” (Lu 2005: 163-164) tries to frame the middle class through a set of indicators such as income, education or occupation. At this point, one regards the middle class as “composed of those who possess a set of certain socioeconomic attributes, which qualitatively distinguish themselves from other social classes” (Lu 2005: 164).
In the context of the developing world, a definition that simply frames the middle class as “those individuals who occupy the middle strata of income distribution” (Visagie, Posel 2011: 2) would be insufficient. Especially in developing countries such as South Africa, the middle strata of income might still be quite close to poverty and barely linked to a middle class standard of living (ibid. 2011: 2). Besides, one could argue thata classis more than just an income group (Everatt 2011: 80, own emphasis). Thus, in the case of South Africa, it makes sense to define the middle class as a group of people whose “standard of affluence or lifestyle would normatively be considered as middle class standard of living” (Visagie, Posel 2011: 5).
A middle class standard of living is commonly associated with specific occupational categories in the field of non-manual employment or “white-collar jobs” (Southall 2004: 522). Thus, this study follows some previous suggestions and defines the middle class according to occupational groups such as “managers, senior officials, legislators, professionals, associated professionals, technicians and clerks” (Visagie, Posel 2011: 6). Obviously, as a prerequisite for such occupations, people have to obtain certain levels of education. Hence, this study counts people as members of the middle class if they possess a university degree and are working in a white-collar profession.
The terms black middle class and African middle class are generally used interchangeably. What they both have in common is that by definition they exclude the white, coloured and Indian population of South Africa (Southall 2004: 522-523).
Besides, when the term of anemergingblack middle class is used throughout this paper, it implies a double function. First, it emphasizes the recent growth of a black middle class since the end of apartheid. Second, and this is unique within this study, the termemergingrefers to a younger group of black middle class individuals who mainly grew up after the end of apartheid. This group did not actively experience apartheid in educational institutions or in the professional field.
The black middle class in general is still far from being the dominant class within the (black) population of South Africa. Hence, this is also true for the more specific emerging black middle class. Despite the black middle class’ growth, it only makes up 8.2% of the black population (Visagie, Posel 2011: 5; Statistics SA 2011). The huge majority of black South Africans still lives under precarious conditions. Consequently, whatever assessment on the democratic potential of the emerging black middle class will be made, its influence on democracy might be limited only through its mere size.
Indispensably, one has to clarify along which dimensions democracy can be understood since it is an essential concept throughout this study.
The meaning of democracy is not unequivocal because “democracy [...] is rather a complex set of characteristics which may be ranked in many different ways” (Lipset 1959: 73). Although attributes of democracy might be composed differently, there are some defining characteristics that are generally used to frame the concept of democracy. The influence of the population on the award of political offices and decisions through the act of voting is probably the most essential characteristic of democracy:
“Democracy [...] may be defined as a political system which supplies regular constitutional opportunities for changing governing officials, and a social mechanism which permits the largest possible part of the population to influence major decisions by choosing among contenders for political office.” (Lipset 1960: 45)
Such a procedural definition of democracy as an “electoral democracy” (Munck 2009: 123) is commonly the base for definitions of democracy. As an advantage, it circumvents the problems of maximalist approaches (Munck, Verkuilen 2009: 17). Also, most of the studies regarding the relation between middle class and democracy are using a procedural definition of democracy based on the right to vote.
But democracy seems to be more than “the process of forming governments through the free competition among politicians for votes” (Munck 2009: 123). Beyond the political right to vote, democracy is generally defined as implying certain “political liberties” (Bollen 1991: 6) or “civil liberties” (Lu 2005: 167). These liberties refer to the freedom of expression, associational autonomy and the universal rule of law (Bollen 1991: 6; Lu 2005: 167). A democracy that is combining the political right to vote, political liberties and the protection of minorities is called a liberal democracy (Lu 2005: 167).
Sometimes, the concept of a “social democracy” (Bollen 1991: 8-9) is used to refer to a kind of democracy that is not only ensuring political rights and liberties but also social rights (Meyer 2009: 271-272). These social rights refer to the entitlement to basic material needs. A social democracy is also associated with policies that are meant to combat an extreme social polarization, improve the opportunities of disadvantaged groups in society and eventually, achieve a certain degree of social inclusion (ibid. 2009: 272).
To sum up the introduced approaches, democracy can be understood along a political dimension (right to vote), a civil rights dimension (freedom of expression, association, rule of law) and probably even a social dimension (basic material needs, social inclusion).
Lipset as early as in 1959 made a strong statement on the importance of the level of economic development, education and religion for the emergence of democracy (Lipset 1959: 72, 75). It was evident that economic development would only be beneficiary to democracy if it was linked to the development of a middle class that could moderate conflicts in society (ibid. 1959: 83).
Since then, the sometimes so called “Lipset-hypothesis” (Barro 1999: 159) which sees a middle class as a prerequisite for democracy has been broadly accepted and confirmed in numerous studies. More recently, Easterly (2001: 330) emphasized that a middle class may contribute to more democracy and less political instability. Barro (1999) found a number of variables positively correlated with democracy. He emphasized most prominently the positive influence of primary education, a majority protestant population and the middle class (Barro 1999: 170-175). Eventually, the middle class is regarded as “the driving class for democratization” (Lu 2005: 160) because it is assumed that “middle class individuals think and act democratically” (ibid. 2005: 160).
Although the positive relation between middle class and democracy gained sound scientific support, the relation is based primarily on studies referring to western countries. In the case of South Africa, a positive relation has not yet been validated. Existing research mainly focuses on defining the size and the growth of the emerging black middle class in South Africa (Rivero et al. 2003; Southall 2004; Visagie, Posel 2011; Phadi, Ceruti 2011).
As an exception, Schlemmer (2005) tries to shed light on the issue of whether a black middle class could be beneficiary to a plural democracy in South Africa. He found that the black middle class is strongly aligned with the ruling ANC and that it is highly supportive of affirmative action, empowerment policies for the black population and an interventionist state (Schlemmer 2005: 6-11). Nevertheless, it remains questionable how far Schlemmer's findings relate to an emerging black middle class as defined in this paper. His assertions just refer to “a core middle class” (ibid. 2005: 2) which is more sort of an elite than an emerging middle class.
Eventually, the relation between middle class and democracy in South Africa remains under-researched and if one regards the scarce findings available, they hint that the relation might not work as well as in developed countries, especially if the middle class owes its emergence to the ruling party: “a middle class which has risen as a result of ruling party patronage does not play any significant role in broadening and strengthening democracy” (Giliomee, Simkins 1999a: 3). The emergence of the black middle class in South Africa was fostered through the ruling ANC and stems also from the ANC's empowerment policies and schemes of public sector employment (Holden 2012: 227). Consequently, some doubts regarding the validity of the positive relation between the emerging black middle class and democracy in South Africa might be reasonable.
Due to the emphasis that the depicted previous research put on the relation between the black middle class and the governing ANC, the paper at hand also focuses on this specific issue in chapter 4.2. It makes sense to assess the relation of the emerging black middle class to democracy in regard of its affiliation to the ANC because the ANC's consolidated position of power is commonly seen as one main obstacle to the deepening of democracy in South Africa (Southall 2005: 67).
When an area of interest has barely been researched before, qualitative methods are commonly regarded as helpful in order to achieve a first understanding of the field (Flick 2004: 149; Gerring 2009: 1142). In regard of the first research question, information about the emerging black middle class' understanding of democracy are barely available. Hence, due to the lack of previous knowledge a qualitative approach seems to be feasible to answer the first research question.
But also concerning the second research question, which tries to illuminate the relation between the emerging black middle class in South Africa and democracy, a qualitative approach appears useful. A qualitative approach with a small number of cases can also make a contribution to validate, counterfeit or alternate theories and scientific regularities (Flick 2004: 149; Mayring 2010: 25). The introduced relation between middle class and democracy is such a scientific regularity and a qualified statement about its validity in the particular case of South Africa can be gained through a qualitative approach.
Undeniably, this study is confronted with the general problem that significant differences are to be found between citizens’ political attitudes and their actual behaviour (Almond, Verba 1963: 479). Certain political attitudes do not automatically result into the respective behaviour or actions. Only “if politics becomes intense [...] because of some salient issue” (ibid. 1963: 483), political attitudes might also result into the respective political behaviour.
Thus, even if this paper found that the emerging black middle class shared certain attitudes towards the existing shape of democracy in South Africa, it would not automatically imply that the emerging black middle class would also engage into actions to change the democratic system and realize its attitudes.
Data material as the foundation for answering the arising research questions was collected through semi-structured interviews. These interviews are characterized as follows: first, open questions without fixed answer categories guarantee that the interviewee is able to develop his or her own unbiased response (Porst 2011: 54). Second, there is some space for flexibility meaning that the interviewer is able to further inquire in cases of uncertainties or special interests (Flick 2012: 223). Third, a certain set of guiding questions exists that must be posed to all interviewees. Posing a certain number of questions to all interviewees also contributes to the standardization of the method and buttresses the comparability of the interviews (Flick 2012: 174).
The interview structure (Interviewleitfaden) anticipated previous research and theoretical considerations as outlined in the second chapter. Moreover, the interview structure includes a section of “issue oriented questions” (Stake 1995: 65) relating to recent political developments in South Africa. Unfortunately, there is no space to discuss the composition of questions or categories in detail.
A core characteristic of qualitative research is that cases are selected according to the relevance for the research question being under scrutiny (Flick 2012: 175, 159). Thus, the cases for this study were selected according to an a priori principal. Interviewees only qualified for an interview if they met the definition criteria of the emerging black middle class (see chapter 2.1) and could be seen as an ideal type of the defined group. Consequently, all interviewees were black South Africans who did not actively experience apartheid in education or profession (none beyond 25 years). All of them possessed an academic degree and worked in a white-collar profession. Most of them also owned a car and rented an apartment or suburban house which can be seen as a further prove of their middle class standard of living (Visagie, Posel 2011: 5).
Totally, there are five cases or rather five interviews that were conducted in South Africa, Johannesburg, in March 2013. Johannesburg as a region was chosen due to its status as the economic power house of South Africa. It was expected to find individuals meeting the middle class definition more easily than in generally poorer rural areas. Three of the interviewees were male and two interviewees were female. The names of the interviewees were made anonymous and all of them were asked for the permission and agreed to the recording and the further use of the interviews for this paper.
Inevitably, the collection of interview data is confronted with a set of flaws. For this study, problems might originate especially from the following conditions: first, interviewees might have answered according to a perceived social expectation (Diekmann 2010: 447). They could have artificially stressed their positive understanding or relation to democracy because democracy is generally thought of as an appropriate governmental system. Second, the interviewer could have biased the responses of the interviewees (Diekmann 2010: 447, 466). Skin colour still matters in the post-apartheid context of South Africa, and the fact that the interviewer was white and came from a European country whereas the interviewees were black South Africans might have also influenced the outcome of the interviews. However, there is no capacity to further reflect on these issues.
Qualitative research sometimes suffers from the not unjustified objection that “apparently almost anything is still methodologically possible under the label of qualitative research” (Lüders 2004: 360). Transparency can be one key to overcome the problems of qualitative methods (ibid. 2004: 360). This paper anticipates the requirement of transparency in various ways: first, all interviews are made available in the attachment of this paper. Second, an analysis chart is attached to this paper which shows how single interview passages are linked to certain categories. Providing this measure of transparency, steps of interpretation become comprehensible. Third, this study is inspired by the well developed method of qualitative content analysis (Mayring 2010). Characteristically, qualitative content analysis implies a systematical and theory driven approach (ibid. 2010: 12-13). Through the second chapter it has already become palpable that this paper connects to previous research and existing theoretical knowledge and is hence theoretically embedded.
Specifically, Mayring (2010: 65-66) differentiates between three techniques of interpretation: summary, explication and structuring. This paper makes use of the second and third technique. Structuring means to filtercertain aspectsout of the data material (ibid. 2010: 65, own emphasis). Thesecertain aspectsin the realm of this study are the understandings of democracy of the emerging black middle class. Thus, the technique of structuring will be used to answer the first research question. The technique of explication refers to addingadditional datato the self-collected data (ibid. 2010: 65, own emphasis). This technique will be used to develop an answer to the second research question and to assess the relation between the emerging black middle class and democracy. Asadditional datathis paper will use findings from previous research and some quantitative data. Quantitative data is used to explicate certain trends and to substantiate or to relativize the qualitative findings. Since there is no quantitative data that is directly referring to the middle class as an independent variable, this paper uses education as a proxy variable that can be linked to the middle class. According to the chosen definition within this paper, university educated sections of the South African society can be associated with the middle class.
If inferences based on the interview data are made, a code is stated that refers to a certain category in the analysis chart so that it becomes transparent on which passages from the interviews a certain conclusion is based (e.g. C3 = category 3). The codes are to be found in the analysis chart and stand for certain categories. On a more general level, categories within the analysis chart are framed under some main categories. Also direct quotations from the interviews are made if they illustrate a typical pattern that could be found within the interview data. Roman numbers indicate the interview number (I-V). After that, the page (p.) and lines (l.) are given to indicate the exact position in the respective interview.
Chapter four compiles the actual empirical analysis. The first section is dealing with the emerging black middle class’ understanding of democracy, solely on the base of the collected interview data. The second section builds on these first findings, the interview data, previous research and some quantitative data to assess the relation between the emerging black middle class and democracy in South Africa.
To get a first impression of the emerging black middle class' understanding of democracy, frequently used words were counted when the interviewees described their understanding of democracy in the second section of the interviews (fig. 1). If a word like “vote” was introduced by the interviewer's question, the word was not included into the count. Words were only counted if they were introduced independently by the interviewee.
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Fig. 1: Word count of frequently used key terms in regard of democracy
Interestingly, the most frequently used word in the context of describing democracy was “opportunity” or the plural, “opportunities”. The words appeared 28 times in the second section of all interviews. The second most common terms were “free, freedom” whereby freedom as an essential of democracy was commonly understood as a freedom of choice: “I can say that democracy means freedom of choice” (I, p. 2, l. 23- 24). The words “empower, empowerment” hold the third position. The idea of empowerment was closely associated with opportunities in the sense that a democratic system must empower disadvantaged people in society so that they might enjoy better opportunities in life. The words “vote”, “equality” and “choice” were less frequently used. However, voting is accepted as an essential pillar of democracy. The word was moderately used and compared to “opportunity, opportunities” the implications of voting were just not further elaborated by the interviewees. Throughout the analysis of the interviews it became apparent that the understanding of democracy is still strongly linked to the past of apartheid (C1). This is an interesting finding since the target group did at least not actively experience apartheid. Demands posed to democracy and characteristics that democracy should embrace today are derived from the time of pre 1994 or the present consequences of that time:
“I relate it [democracy] to apartheid within South Africa as a black person then you could not basically do anything” (II, p. 2, l. 21-23)
Thus, as a starting point, democracy is essentially understood as the absence of former apartheid legislation and the resulting restrictions on the individual’s freedom in regard of choices and chances (C4): “it [democracy] means being able to be anything I want without any restrictions” (III, p. 1, l. 20-p. 2, l. 1)
The emerging black middle class acknowledges that the majority of the South African population was disadvantaged during decades of minority rule and that the consequences are still obvious today. As democracy today is still regarded with reference to the past, there is a strong emphasis on an opportunity-creating dimension of democracy: “democracy must provide opportunities [...] that people have never had before” (II, p. 2, l. 37-38)
Democracy is supposed to create opportunities for people. This is a ubiquitous essential of the emerging black middle class' understanding of democracy (C6). Specifically, opportunities are framed as chances in life to improve one's circumstances of living and to pursue a self-defined goal. Practically, opportunities are seen as access to education or the provision of jobs. Besides, democracy is not only considered as a system that provides theoretically or legally equal conditions for everybody to access opportunities or rather educational institutions and certain jobs. On the contrary, the emerging black middle class favours a concept of democracy that also materially supports previously disadvantaged members of society so that they may enjoy improved educational and job opportunities (C9). As a tool to achieve these broader opportunities, equity and affirmative action policies like Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) are unanimously supported (C10): “there is the whole Black Economic Empowerment thing that is making sure that black people [...] get opportunities to do things that they had never done before like become CEO of a company” (II, p. 7, l. 6-10)
The support for this kind of legislation that is aimed to increase the representation of black South Africans in qualified professions through the introduction of quotas for black employees or preferences within the recruitment process is generally very strong:
“Right now, the stage we are in, in our democracy, I believe there is a need for a BEE kind of system” (III, p. 16, l. 26-29)
There is not one negative statement to be found that would generally refute the implementation of affirmative action policies. If affirmative action policies are criticized then only in relation to the way they are implemented and executed (C11):
“So I think it’s [BEE] necessary right now [...] maybe the implementation [...] something is wrong because [...] people are still not seeing the fruits of this policy” (III, p. 16, l. 26-33)
The strong support for social equity policies goes on a more general level hand in hand with the demand for an active state (C9): “as long as the government and the private sector cannot create enough jobs for everyone there will always have to be social welfare because people have to get out of poverty” (IV, p.17, l. 2-5)
However, even if affirmative policies are supported that enforce employment quotas and preferential recruitment of black South Africans, there is a sceptical attitude towards mere welfare programmes and redistribution to be found: “giving people social grants and all these things it's not necessarily helping them grow [...] it's keeping them at the same place” (III, p. 2, l. 11-13)
Thus, even if policies that are meant to ameliorate the access to opportunities are decisively welcomed, a kind of dependency state that is permanently alimenting disadvantaged groups of society is rejected (C13). In this regard, it is demanded to tackle the perceived root causes of poverty which are seen in restricted access to opportunities. Statements demanding only the creation of an equal base of political liberties whereas “everything else needs to be up to the individual” (III, p. 15, l. 8-10) are just a minority opinion. Essentially, all interviewees agreed on a comprehensive support of affirmative action policies.
Finally, the profound agreement on social and affirmative action policies (C9, C10) feeds into the conclusion that the emerging black middle class attaches a significant social dimension to democracy.
Obviously, the right to vote is regarded as a further essential of democracy (C2). However, references to the importance of voting are significantly less frequent than to the importance of opportunity creation (C6). Perhaps, the neglect of voting appears because the right to vote is already perceived as normal after four inclusive elections. Moreover, social disparities are omnipresent in everyday South Africa so that their alleviation in terms of opportunity creation might seem to be more important. But clearly, it could also nurture the suspicion that the process of selecting leaders through elections is regarded as less important as long as affirmative action policies are pursued. However, against such a conclusion stands a relatively strong claim that is made for direct elements of democracy (C8).
In terms of political liberties, specific attention is devoted to the freedom of expression. Although it must stand behind the all dominating importance of opportunity creation through democracy, the freedom of expression is valued especially in regard of the ability to criticize the flaws of the governing ANC (C5, C26).
To summarize the findings, democracy is on the one hand understood as the absence of former apartheid legislation that restricted the access to certain opportunities (education, occupation, movement) and on the other hand, as the current existence of policies that are introduced to mitigate social imbalances and impeded opportunities of the past. This social dimension of democracy is seen as primarily essential to democracy.
A political rights dimension in terms of the right to vote and a political liberties dimension in terms of freedom of expression are also regarded as important, especially in the light of recent threats to the freedom of expression.
Previous research in the western world leads to the assumption that the middle class is positively contributing to the development of democracy. However, the middle class hypothesis is questioned in the case of the developing world and particularly South Africa (Giliomee, Simkins 1999a: 3; ibid. 1999b: 343; Schlemmer 1999: 287-288; ibid. 2005: 10-11). In this context, it has been argued that the middle class is not necessarily fostering democracy since “a middle class that has risen out of ruling party patronage does not play any significant role in broadening and strengthening democracy” (Giliomee, Simkins 1999a: 3).
In the case of South Africa, it is true that the emergence of the black middle class coincides with the ANC's time in government, its empowerment policies, preferential employment and the demographic transformation of the civil service (Holden 2012: 227). Hence, the emerging black middle class in South Africa is to some extent “a state sponsored middle class” (Giliomee, Simkins 1999b: 343) but does this automatically imply that it will be “unlikely to turn away from the party that had made its rise possible” (ibid. 1999b: 343)?
The collected interview data does not confirm an exceptionally sound bond between the ANC and the emerging black middle class in South Africa. The relation is more complex.
On the one hand, the ANC of the anti-apartheid struggle is still held in high esteem by the emerging black middle class (C16). The merits of the ANC as a liberation movement that freed South Africa from apartheid and brought democracy to its entire people are emphasized. But on the other hand, the emerging black middle class recognizes that since its time in government, the ANC has demised and none of the interviewees has been satisfied with the ANC's performance (C17, C18):
“The ANC is like the father of democracy in South Africa. [...] they freed the country [...] I'm grateful to the party, the whole organisation and all the people that contributed but obviously [...] the last 19 years they sort of deteriorated” (IV, p. 9, l. 16-22)
The high levels of corruption within the ANC led government are seen as one of the most crucial deteriorations of the party (C18). The corruption problem is regarded as a waste of public financial means that stunts the broadening of opportunities for disadvantaged people. Clearly, such developments are leading to the distancing of the emerging black middle class from the ANC since the creation of opportunities is seen as the most essential characteristic of democracy (compare chapter 4.1).
Thus, this study finds a high level of critical distance between the emerging black middle class and the ANC (C17, C18). The findings at hand do not support the allegation that “especially the better-educated emerging middle class tend[s] to favour a hegemonic position for the most popular party” (Schlemmer 1999: 298). Apart from the qualitative findings based on the interviews, this assertion is also challenged by quantitative data. There is no evidence for the claim that especially the better educated emerging black middle class is prone to one party rule. The next graph (fig. 2) shows approval rates of one party rule among black South Africans according to educational levels (Afrobarometer 2010-2012). The approval rate of one party rule among black South Africans with primary or secondary education is relatively high but decreases significantly with an academic level of education. While still 24% of black South Africans with a primary school education support one party rule, the group that is related to the middle class - the university educated people (e, f) - shows the lowest support rate for one party rule: Only 3% of black South Africans with a first university degree are in favour of one party rule.
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Fig.2: Approval of one party rule among black South Africans according to education
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The percentage for group (f) is based on a very small number of cases (n=4). However, an academic level of education and a low approval of one party rule are in congruence with the qualitative data.
Moreover, the claim that an emerging black middle class is less democratic due to its staunch inclination to the ANC (Schlemmer 1999: 298) is refuted by the comparison of university educated black and white South Africans. The following graph (fig. 3) shows the support of one party rule among university educated South Africans according to population groups (Afrobarometer 2010-2012). Generally, levels of support for one party rule are low. But if one compares the two population groups, black university educated South Africans (3%) seem to be even less prone to one party rule than white university educated South Africans (15%). Thus, also the quantitative data does not
allow for an inference that would picture the emerging black middle class as less democratic than a comparable white middle class in terms of approval to one party rule.
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Fig. 3: Approval of one party rule among university educated South Africans (first degree) according topopulation group
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But even if the emerging black middle class is far from being firmly aligned with the ruling ANC, it remains to some extent affiliated to the party due to the lack of a present electoral alternative.
Partly, support for the ANC is even granted if one is highly dissatisfied with the party's performance. Due to the lack of a current alternative to the ANC, one does abide with the ruling party (V, p. 6, l. 38-41). The Democratic Alliance (DA), the main opposition party, is sometimes perceived as a white dominated party and thus for some it is not an option to vote for (C22). In this sense, there is limited truth in the assertion of a linkage between the black middle class and the ANC (Schlemmer 1999: 287-288; ibid. 2005: 10) but this is less due to conviction as due to a serious and electable alternative to the ANC.
Besides, although a significant degree of dissatisfaction with the ANC is to be found, it remains true that the emerging black middle class is benefiting from the current democratic system in South Africa that has been shaped through the ANC in government since the end of apartheid (Holden 2012: 237). Also the interview data shows that the emerging black middle class regards itself as highly benefiting from the current shape of democracy (C27):
“I feel like democracy is only working for people like me” (IV, p. 6, l. 39-40)
This finding might cause some doubt how far the emerging black middle class is really willing to alternate the currently existing framework of democracy in South Africa. Since the emerging black middle class regards itself as benefiting from the current system, it might not have an incentive to change it. At this point, it could be reasonable to think that the emerging black middle class primarily stabilizes the current democratic system instead of changing it into a more democratic direction.
But though benefiting from the current democratic system, the emerging black middle class' dissatisfaction with the ANC is significant (C17, C18) and an extensive demand for more political competition and a more sophisticated multi-party system (C19) is to be found. An urgent need for the strengthening of the opposition to the ANC and the formation of a serious electoral alternative is regarded as highly important.
To some extent, this support of a plural democratic system is also buttressed by quantitative data. The next graph (fig. 4) shows approval rates of multi-party democracy among black South Africans according to educational levels (Afrobarometer 2010-2012). From primary school level on, the approval increases with the educational level and is exceptionally high among the group of black South Africans with a first
university degree (88%). Interestingly, the demand for multi-party democracy drops with post-graduate education but this might be due to the restricted quantitative data (only four cases for post-graduates) and is probably not an empirical regularity.
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Fig. 4: Approval of a multi-party system among black South Africans according to education
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The percentage for group (f) is based on a very small number of cases (n=4). Hence, it is doubtable if the support of a multi-party system really declines with the highest educational level. The qualitative findings of this study do not suggest such an interpretation.
Furthermore, the emerging black middle class’ support of a multi-party system does not seem less significant if one compares it to an equally educated white middle class. The graph below (fig. 5) varies the population group (skin colour) among people with a first university education (Afrobarometer 2010-2012). Generally, the approval of a
multi-party system is high among black and white South Africans with university education. It is even slightly higher among black South Africans (88%) than white South Africans (80%). Hence, the quantitative data underpins the qualitative finding of an emerging black middle class that supports multi-party democracy and more political competition. There is no evidence to be found that the emerging black middle class could be particularly less democratic than other middle class segments in the South African society.
Fig. 5: Approval of a multi-party system among university educated South Africans (first degree) according to population group
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The high level of support for a multi-party system among the emerging black middle class probably stems from the following conviction: a strong competitor to the ANC could contribute to a better functioning democratic system with less flaws in regard of service delivery and corruption (C19). Out of the claim for multi-party democracy, there is a profound demand for a serious opposition party to the ANC.
In conclusion, regarding its support of multi-party democracy, the emerging black middle class could indeed contribute to a more democratic system (Holden 2012: 236) despite of its benefits from the current shape of democracy.
Another important pattern shows that skin colour in terms of political preferences is less significant for the emerging black middle class. The focus lies more on objective facts like party performance and policies (C29). Hence, the emerging black middle class is a factor that could contribute positively to a democracy less burdened by the skin colour divide:
“I think people in our generation those that have had a good, I guess education, would be able to reason for themselves” (II, p. 19, l. 9-11)
Eventually, chapter 4.1, when discussing the emerging black middle class' understanding of democracy, stressed the importance of a social dimension that is attached to democracy. Democracy is understood as opportunity-creating through affirmative and empowerment policies (C6, C9, C10). Obviously, also through direct material support and preferential treatment of black South Africans but without establishing a permanent dependency culture on fiscal transfers (C13). In this sense, the study at hand would agree with the summary that “the key interests of the African middle class are centred on occupational mobility; as such affirmative action, employment equity, and empowerment policies” (Schlemmer 2005: 12). Taking these previous findings and the interview data into account, one might regard the emerging black middle class primarily as a driver of a strong social dimension to democracy.
First, this study finds that the emerging black middle class contributes positively to democracy through its demand for a multi-party system and serious opposition parties as an electable alternative to the ANC.
Second, although benefiting from the current shape of democracy in South Africa, the emerging black middle class is less aligned with the ANC and less driven by skin colour than an older black middle class that still experienced the hardship of apartheid. Thus, the emerging black middle class does not necessarily stabilize the ruling ANC. At this point, the results of this study differ fundamentally from previous findings that stated a general alignment of the black middle class with the governing ANC (Schlemmer 1999: 287-288; ibid. 2005: 10-11; Holden, Plaut 2012: 348). Apparently, the findings of this study are more in congruence with research that argues for a general positive relation between middle class and democracy (Lipset 1959: 83; Barro 1999: 171; Easterly 2001: 330; Lu 2005: 171).
Third, the emerging black middle class appears to be foremost a driver of a social type of democracy which tries to mitigate the imbalanced access to opportunities for the black population. At this point, the emerging black middle class is supportive to a democratic system that through affirmative policies tries to ameliorate the social standing of black South Africans without growing a permanent dependency on state grants. Thus, the study could confirm previous assumptions of the black middle class' inclination to a social dimension of democracy (Schlemmer 2005: 12). Besides, in regard of feared limitations to the freedom of expression in South Africa, one finds a strong support for the political liberties dimension of democracy. This finding indicates once more that the emerging black middle class is far from being manifestly aligned to the ruling ANC.
Practically, even if this study finds a positive relation between the emerging black middle class in South Africa and the further strengthening of democracy, it is difficult to assess how far this positive relation might be really effective.
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