By Ntombenhle Khathwane
There has been much speculation as to where the black middle-class vote will go. What is evident is that there is no party that totally encapsulates the aspirations of these people. Under the current political and economic landscape, the black diamonds could vote EFF as a protest vote against the ANC or because the EFF speaks to their aspirations.
I was surprised at myself for flirting with the idea of voting EFF this year as I had definitely scoffed at the idea of a political party led by Julius Malema when it was first formed. I was even more surprised when I attended an EFF meeting for professionals a few weeks ago and the room was overflowing. On my way to the Midrand venue I had imagined the room would be half-empty, so I was pleasantly surprised that it was full. It got me thinking about whether the black middle class would vote EFF. When political pundits (and even Malema himself) speak about who will vote EFF they focus on the working class and poor, they never mention the black diamonds.
With the demise of Cope, the failure by Mamphela Ramphele to clearly distinguish Agang, the majority of the black middle class is left considering voting the ANC or the newly formed EFF. The recent publicised spats within the DA make it obvious that even white politicians guising themselves as liberals do not understand the need for affirmative action in order to create a level playing ground from which we compete fairly for opportunities. If white politicians don’t get it, then corporate South Africa and the majority of whites won’t get the dangers posed by economic inequality and why it is a problem that the current structure of the economy prevents blacks from participating fairly and gaining ownership of the economy.
Political equality has not created an environment where opportunities can be competed for fairly. Whites have the upper hand in almost every sphere from academia to the world of finance. The black middle class is mainly constituted by educated and hard-working people who are the first to reject the idea of using race or gender to get ahead. These are people who are first to value meritocracy. Yet, as soon as they get into the working world they realise that this value doesn’t exist, especially in corporate South Africa. Race is what gets white people ahead and patriarchy is what keeps women from advancing.
The people who attended the meeting for professionals called by EFF and headlined by Dali Mpofu were professionals from all sectors, lawyers, engineers, bankers and academics mostly working in the corporate sector or running their own businesses. Those in corporate South Africa are clear that race keeps them from advancing fairly. Those in business know that business from corporate South Africa goes to whites and business from government goes to those who are politically connected. Those in academia face their own challenges in these institutions and civil society that are also racial in nature; these challenges prevent black academics from participating fairly in the knowledge economy.
The EFF leaders have not fully articulated their policies so there’s no clear understanding of what they mean by their broad statements or more importantly how they will implement them. This is important because most of us love ANC policies but have seen that implementation has been the challenge for a number of reasons ranging from corruption to interference by trade unions. The EFF speaks as if it will zoom in on certain aspects and do better than the ANC has done. This appeals to the black middle class because after 20 years it is clear that race prevents fair economic participation and economic redistribution and that something drastic has to be done to change the status quo ASAP!
When the EFF speaks of nationalising the mines, whether it’s a good idea or not, this does not affect the middle class directly because very few if any own mines. Although it could affect them indirectly depending on how this nationalisation is supposed to work and how it affects the economy as a whole. The issue of nationalising land also does not affect the black middle class directly because very few if at all own large tracts of valued land. Yet they could benefit indirectly should EFF choose to give all those living on tribal land title deeds and therefore giving economic value to that land. Although the majority of the black middle class live in suburbs they are still very connected to their rural and township roots, therefore they too want to see conditions improve for the black working class and poor. A portion of income earned by the financially overburdened middle class also finds its way back towards supporting family in townships or villages.
The black diamonds find it easier to make decisions on changing political affiliation. Like every other class they vote to further their aspirations. The working class is tied to the parties determined by the unions they are affiliated to. The lower class is tied to the ANC for guaranteed social grants and other basic social benefits such as food, housing, education and health. Whichever political party vies to govern, the ever growing black middle class remains very important because it is this group that will drive economic growth through supplying skilled labour; establishing big corporations that can employ larger numbers of people at commensurate wages and absorb the increasing numbers of unemployed youth.
Ntombenhle Khathwane is an Afro-optimistic social commentator, student of politics and pan-Africanist who believes Africans hold the key to their own development. An entrepreneur and black business activist.