Desensitization of the Black Middle Class


Growing up in the communal environment of Tembisa I understood that an individual cannot be in complete isolation from others and that every adult in our area was my aunt or uncle. Whenever my Granny ran out beef stock she had no problem shouting out our neighbour’s name, over the fence, and then graciously asking for even half a cube . But like most black South Africans, when my parents started earning enough to enroll me into a model-c school, pay a mortgage bond and drown in black debt in order to maintain a certain lifestyle, this all changed and we moved to the more affluent areas known as the suburbs. Not only did this new way of life breed a culture of individualism, it also meant collective organization would prove to be difficult and there was no screaming over the wall for that beef stock or even a cup of washing powder.
The definition of the “middle class” in South Africa is rather problematic due to the existing socio-economic disparities which are prevalent within the population. My understanding of the black middle class is: those who do not own the means of production, who fear the poor (usually their own kind) and are impartial about the existing structural realities other Black South Africans face daily. As a black middle class child I am raised in an environment where the importance of BLACK SOLIDARITY is sacrificed for high walls which undoubtedly breed individualism and cultural assimilation. This aids in reproducing a façade of a ‘united black community which has everything “together” and leads to the silencing of vital discussions regarding the harsh conditions which should undoubtedly occupy ALL BLACK MINDS.
I am mostly intrigued by how the black middle class is so fearful of what is known as the ‘working class’ in their own communities. Recently, I observed one of my neighbours, chase away a young black man dressed in overalls because he was sitting on her green grass. Another incident that made my blood boil was a tweet I read recently:

“Every time a criminal is shot and killed by the police, I feel at ease because society becomes a better and a safer place to live.”

The Irony in all of this is that as much as we are fearful of these individuals, we continue to use their labour in our ‘highly surveillanced areas’ as our ‘helpers’, security guards or even as a type of garden service. Don’t get me wrong, I am not condoning any criminal acts, however I am a firm believer that a person is not illegal but their actions are, let us not disregard the socio-economic disparities in our country when calling for the “mass murder” of criminals. We openly declare that the poor are morally corrosive to our population, ignoring the fact that Freedom is actually a collective objective. Like Frantz Fanon said:

“Each generation must out of relative obscurity, discover its mission, fulfill it, or betray it.”

This means we cannot ignore the fact that 8% of Africans had access to medical cover in 2003 while 65% of White South Africans had access to the same basic need.(GHS:2012) We cannot simply assume that the growth of the black middle class in our country eliminates the prevalent racial-based inequalities whereas, the liberation project is far from over.
Notions such as ‘Born-frees’, ‘Black Diamonds’ and even ‘Democratization’ aid in producing an apathetic black middle class, where elite arrogance continues to thrive and yes this is a subliminal message. We live in a time where human needs are not sacrosanct to public servants, where social riots are a by-product of broken promises of liberation and where the black child is not taught the significance of struggling together as a community. The racial confines of space may have shifted however the shift from segregation to assimilation into an already existing system does not mean Black South Africans should not stand together. This will help ensure the participation of the masses in a struggle which actually belongs to them and to them alone, the sooner we fathom this,the better.
Biko still lives…


Tholithembelihle ‘Nomzamo’ Ngwenya is an undergraduate student at the University of Pretoria, majoring in Political studies. An Activist who believes she will change the world!

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