OPINION - A New Kind of Apartheid: Analysing South Africa’s “Class Struggle”.

BY MATTHEW COLLINS - DECEMBER 19, 2014

With “race” having been somewhat deified in South African discourse, perceptions have been said to be warped from another social issue – arguably the most foundational of all…

A history defined by racism

South Africa’s history is infamous for its racist policies, which were deeply embedded in legislation. The separation of various races along the well known term “separate development” was a stark reality along the timeline of South Africa’s past.

Now – with eternal gratitude being paid to the efforts of countless brave men, women and even children – this beautiful land has been blessed with democracy. It is a democracy whose constitution entrenches equality on various grounds, including race.

However, with South Africa having recently passed into its twentieth-year of democracy, the question as to what is happening in the land, along these grounds, is bearing extreme relevance.

Programmed perspectives

Discourse in South Africa, for countless decades, has revolved around racialism, racial differences, and pseudo-claims of racial superiority.

Therefore, with so much attention having been paid to the concept of “racism”, another concept – arguably the most foundational of all societies – has been largely ignored. That concept is “class”.

While class has often been attached to various other social issues – with racism and sexism being prominent ones – the concept of class, in its purest sense, has been said to be of particular importance in understanding and overcoming the foundational tenets of inequality.    

In other words, it is argued that class consciousness has been blinded by socialised perspectives in South Africa – revolving around race and race alone.

BEE: Where race and class get mixed-up

According to an article in The Economist (2013) – after 1994, the ANC vowed to make blacks wealthier. In doing this, the transfer of stakes from white-owned businesses to black investors has been encouraged. This is otherwise known as Black Economic Empowerment (BEE).

“Change at the top, it was claimed, would foster change further down by removing blockages to the hiring and promotion of blacks,” read the article.

In a New York Times article (2002), it was stated that former president Thabo Mbeki had “hailed the emergence of this budding ''black capitalist class'' and described its expansion as a major goal of his government, which hopes to improve the lives of ordinary blacks

A teacher at the University of Witwatersrand, Devan Pillay, said in an article, in the Mail & Guardian, that “the ANC was given political power as long as it did not disturb the economic "fundamentals"; that is, the fundamental interests of the ­economic elite” and that “in exchange, we got affirmative action in the public sector, and the black economic enrichment of an elite few.”

The formation of a black elite, a black-affluent class and a poorer black working-class

As time went by, and with the barriers to the aspirations of many blacks no longer being blocked by apartheid, many of them began climbing the ladder of wealth.

To quote a piece from another Economist article (2007), it was stated that, already by 2007, “signs of the growing affluence among South Africa's black majority — once largely deprived of wealth and opportunities by apartheid — are increasingly visible”.

To pull another quote out of the 2013 article in the Economist, it was stated that “the white elite at the top of South African business has been joined by a sliver of super-rich blacks...”

“The lot of poorer blacks, however, has not improved much. Many are frozen out of the workplace altogether.”

To quote the New York Times article from 2002, it was stated that as the divide between rich and poor blacks widens, tensions are mounting”.

Enter the EFF

This continuing income gap has been argued to one day create dissatisfaction towards the African National Congress (ANC). However, this has been claimed for many years and questions as to why the political party is still in power persist. Some, for example, have argued that it could be a sense of mere political loyalty to the name that brought the country out of apartheid.

Whatever the reasons are, the fact of the matter is that a new political-party addition to South Africa has made some waves. Despite the ANC winning elections in 2014, the successful introduction of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) has sparked much interest.

With the recent introduction of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), under Julius Malema, onto the South African political stage, and its subsequent sweeping of one-million votes in the 2014 general elections, this tension is becoming ever more apparent.

In an address by Julius Malema in Makapanstad, North West, earlier this year, it was reported, by The Citizen, that he called the ANC “a party for the black elite”. “We are for the poor people. We know how you live. We are not ashamed of the poor,” exclaimed Malema.

In a Business Day article in December this year, Malema was reported to have said that the BEE beneficiaries such as Patrice Motsepe (who runs African Rainbow Minerals), Baleka Mbete (who has a stake in Gold Fields) and Cyril Ramaphosa (who has held mining interests in Lonmin) had “sold out” and that their mines should be occupied so that communities living near them could also benefit.

Economic Freedom: The name says it all

In a 2012 interview with Al Jazeera, an international news channel, Tony Dykes, the Director of Action for Southern Africa – an organisation promoting “justice democracy and development” – was quoted in having said that “as difficult and as long as it was to achieve a form of political transformation, the struggle to achieve a socio-economic transformation is proving even more difficult. And I think what we’ve witnessed in South Africa is there’s still a major divide by race, there’s a continuing divide by gender, but there is perhaps a small but growing divide by class.”

From this, it could be argued that, while the ANC might have brought about "political transformation" in South Africa, they failed to bring about "socio-economic transformation" in the country, and this is where the EFF appears to focus its attention.

Time for analysis

It can be argued that once the class stratification within a race – particularly the majority population – becomes repulsively apparent, racism, as was once understood, will become irrelevant and a new kind of “economic apartheid” will be born into conscious light.

The question to be asked is whether or not a class-consciousness, within poorer blacks, will be born in realising that race might not necessarily be the main issue anymore, but rather class. This will be seen as those of one’s own race climb the ladder and begin acquiring wealth while they themselves continue to live in abject poverty.

One could argue that white-elitists were always “at the top”. However, this argument can itself be argued to have only been relevant in the context and period of apartheid, where white-rule was law. After the turn of democracy, however, class and wealth could very well become increasingly indiscriminate towards race, especially in the wake of current policies intended to assist and bolster up more “previously disadvantaged” individuals.

While the white-economic elite may have given a fair deal to a few blacks, the fact of the matter is that a new class of black elite and middle-class is forming and they are allegedly willing to “sell out” of the traditional socialist attitude of the nation’s struggle to benefit themselves. It seems that hypocrisy is rampant within the racial argument and that class is an overwhelming social force, more so than the outdated obligation to one’s own race.

Malema, as was mentioned in an article earlier on, has called to fight the “system”. It would appear that this “system” is class-based, with those on top – including blacks – neglecting the needs of the “poor”. This term (poor) refers to class and not necessarily race.

The fact that race and class might coincide may eventually become irrelevant in the wake of this new found class consciousness which could perhaps overtake the philosophy of Black Consciousness, as originally envisioned by Steve Biko. A new “struggle” possibly awaits the land.

As many blacks are climbing the ladder of wealth and “success”, many more are becoming poorer and poorer, with many arguing that they have been forgotten.

On the other hand, some have criticised the EFF for being an authoritarian regime, seeking to catapult itself to power through populism – seducing the needs and aspirations of the working-class – only to occupy the ranks of the wealthy and elite at the expense of its “people”.

Therefore, the question one should be asking remains: Is not human nature, around the issue of class and wealth, stronger than race?

To quote Karl Marx: “The history of all hitherto existing societies is the history of class struggle.”

Does this still apply today?