Friday, 10 August 2007

REVISITING SOUTH AFRICA (IV): "HOW'S THINGS"?

While at the Lanzerac,* I came across a report entitled “Black Advancement: Hype Outstrips Reality”, authored by Lawrence Schlemmer and published by the Helen Suzman Foundation.
It is a well-balanced analysis, based on detailed statistics, of the process of social change in South Africa since the first democratic elections in the country in 1994. Some of its main findings may help explain the upsurge of strikes and demonstrations in the country, particularly by public sector workers, earlier this year. Here's a summary:

***
In the period from 1993 to 2002, Africans increased their share of the top 10 per cent of household income dramatically, from under 10 per cent just before 1994 to 23 per cent in the second half of 2002. Coloured people also increased their share slightly, whereas the white share fell sharply from nearly 80 per cent to some 63 per cent. Indians retained their share. Very significantly, however, the rate of change slowed dramatically after 2002. Coloured people continued to advance but the shares of all other groups remained static, and may even have fallen very slightly among Africans. This stalling of progress has occurred at the very time that talk of black economic empowerment and employment equity has been intensifying. Why is this?

The affirmative action bonanza has passed. Between 2002 and 2004 the effects of inflation are fairly slight, and roughly equal for all race categories. A very tiny super elite of empowerment beneficiaries may well be expanding massively but this is confined to a few dozen individuals and does not affect the basic patterns. The most meaningful trends and shifts are:

 A slight but significant decline in African poverty is occurring, due largely to the expansion of social grants.


 There is a modest but significant expansion of the numbers of Africans in the “not so poor” category of R1 400 to R4 000 per month.

 Abject or severe poverty among coloured people is roughly half of what it is among Africans.

 Abject or severe poverty affects less than 10 per cent of Indians and less than 5 per cent of whites.

 The “lower middle class” among Africans (R4 000 — R12 000 per month) has not expanded over the two years.

 A barely discernable expansion of the more wealthy categories among Africans has occurred.

 The expansion of the categories of relative wealth of R12 000 and more per month has been more rapid among coloured people, Indians and even among whites than it has been among Africans.

These results tell us that most of the stereotypes and loose impressions about a burgeoning new middle class floating around in popular debate are generally gross exaggerations. The reality is rather bad news for those who are committed to rapid or quick fix transformation. The really good news is that deep poverty is not increasing as many people fear. The extension of social grants has indeed stopped the socio-economic rot at the lower levels of livelihoods. However, the ongoing celebration of “empowerment” and with it, quick and easy wealth, may have serious implications. Revolutions of rising expectations have the potential to tear societies apart. The recent concern expressed in government about elite empowerment comes not a moment too soon. But government itself has to think about the contradictions within its own policies.

What does all this tell us about racial inequality? The evidence shows that whites and to a lesser extent Indians still enjoy considerable socio-economic advantage. They are both dominantly middle class communities. At the same time, however, there are very large economic overlaps between the races today, indicating very widely shared circumstances. The middle and upper middle classes are still largely white but no longer overwhelmingly so. Approximately 1,4 million people in what we may call the “middle-middle” class, some 62 to 63 per cent are white. This means that almost four out of ten South Africans in the “solid” middle class are no longer white. Whites have a greater relative advantage in what one might call the “upper middle” class in which they account for nearly three-quarters of the class composition.

*(… and how I missed then the times, years back, when I would go on my own “fact-finding missions” all over Jo’burg… when I took these pictures in Soweto…)

While at the Lanzerac,* I came across a report entitled “Black Advancement: Hype Outstrips Reality”, authored by Lawrence Schlemmer and published by the Helen Suzman Foundation.
It is a well-balanced analysis, based on detailed statistics, of the process of social change in South Africa since the first democratic elections in the country in 1994. Some of its main findings may help explain the upsurge of strikes and demonstrations in the country, particularly by public sector workers, earlier this year. Here's a summary:

***
In the period from 1993 to 2002, Africans increased their share of the top 10 per cent of household income dramatically, from under 10 per cent just before 1994 to 23 per cent in the second half of 2002. Coloured people also increased their share slightly, whereas the white share fell sharply from nearly 80 per cent to some 63 per cent. Indians retained their share. Very significantly, however, the rate of change slowed dramatically after 2002. Coloured people continued to advance but the shares of all other groups remained static, and may even have fallen very slightly among Africans. This stalling of progress has occurred at the very time that talk of black economic empowerment and employment equity has been intensifying. Why is this?

The affirmative action bonanza has passed. Between 2002 and 2004 the effects of inflation are fairly slight, and roughly equal for all race categories. A very tiny super elite of empowerment beneficiaries may well be expanding massively but this is confined to a few dozen individuals and does not affect the basic patterns. The most meaningful trends and shifts are:

 A slight but significant decline in African poverty is occurring, due largely to the expansion of social grants.


 There is a modest but significant expansion of the numbers of Africans in the “not so poor” category of R1 400 to R4 000 per month.

 Abject or severe poverty among coloured people is roughly half of what it is among Africans.

 Abject or severe poverty affects less than 10 per cent of Indians and less than 5 per cent of whites.

 The “lower middle class” among Africans (R4 000 — R12 000 per month) has not expanded over the two years.

 A barely discernable expansion of the more wealthy categories among Africans has occurred.

 The expansion of the categories of relative wealth of R12 000 and more per month has been more rapid among coloured people, Indians and even among whites than it has been among Africans.

These results tell us that most of the stereotypes and loose impressions about a burgeoning new middle class floating around in popular debate are generally gross exaggerations. The reality is rather bad news for those who are committed to rapid or quick fix transformation. The really good news is that deep poverty is not increasing as many people fear. The extension of social grants has indeed stopped the socio-economic rot at the lower levels of livelihoods. However, the ongoing celebration of “empowerment” and with it, quick and easy wealth, may have serious implications. Revolutions of rising expectations have the potential to tear societies apart. The recent concern expressed in government about elite empowerment comes not a moment too soon. But government itself has to think about the contradictions within its own policies.

What does all this tell us about racial inequality? The evidence shows that whites and to a lesser extent Indians still enjoy considerable socio-economic advantage. They are both dominantly middle class communities. At the same time, however, there are very large economic overlaps between the races today, indicating very widely shared circumstances. The middle and upper middle classes are still largely white but no longer overwhelmingly so. Approximately 1,4 million people in what we may call the “middle-middle” class, some 62 to 63 per cent are white. This means that almost four out of ten South Africans in the “solid” middle class are no longer white. Whites have a greater relative advantage in what one might call the “upper middle” class in which they account for nearly three-quarters of the class composition.

*(… and how I missed then the times, years back, when I would go on my own “fact-finding missions” all over Jo’burg… when I took these pictures in Soweto…)

2 comments:

luis said...

Koluki,
It would be interesting to find out to what extent the black population with a higher degree has benefited with the changing dynamics in the country vis-à-vis the not so well educated...

Just wondering to what extent race is really an "issue" here...

Koluki said...

Luis,

Thanks for the comment.
Let's just say that what would really be a case to wonder would be to find, merely 10 years into its post-apartheid era, that race was no longer an "issue" in South Africa...
To start with, race, in this report and in all serious socio-economic analysis (unlike much of what we can find in 'studies' coming from the lusophone world... sorry, but that's a fact... and you know it as well as I do...) is not merely a "genetic" category, but a sociological variable... Now, you can guess where this thread would lead us, so let's leave it at that for the moment.
Then, let's say that the minute group of Black graduates/qualified professionals were all absorbed by the first wave of "affirmative action" in the period 1993-2002... After which we need to understand that race, as a central class structure variable in SAn society (not just there, but that's the case at hand here) pervades all aspects of an individual's life and access to qualified/well paid jobs is just the final step of a life-long process, and remember that higher education was far from widely accessible to the Black population during the apartheid years... and that, just to give a pointing example of what they were "reserved" (in the literary sense of the word and beyond) with, the so-called "Bantu education system" against which Soweto Black students so dramatically rebelled against in 1976 didn't include such disciplines as natural sciences or mathematics, beyond the most basic rudiments.
Now, make what you like out of this...