THE BLOG

The Hypocrisy Of The Middle Classes

What we are witnessing is an internal class conflict where the poor have become nothing more than cannon fodder.

08/04/2017 03:59 SAST
Sumaya Hisham / Reuters
Demonstrators take part in a protest calling for the removal of South Africa's President Jacob Zuma in Cape Town, South Africa April 7, 2017.

Since the axing of Pravin Gordhan and Mcebisi Jonas, the country has been hostage to two opposing narratives. On one end, we have been subject to the rhetoric of "Radical Economic Transformation" and on the other, we are told that Zuma is the beginning and end of all our problems.

The result of these opposing arguments has been a deafening and confusing noise for a great deal of us. We are stuck in the middle: on one hand, we have a President who inspires little confidence and on the other hand South Africa remains an unequal, racist and violent society for the majority of our population.

Of interest to me is the way each side has used the name of the poor to further their agenda. This is, of course, not new. More than ever before, the real poor - those who are forced to live in dehumanising conditions, those who cannot even afford the application fee of university applications let alone the fees and those who are not even privileged enough to qualify for debt - remain quiet. These people are not quiet because they have nothing to say, they remain quiet because the very power to express themselves has been hijacked by both the white and black middle classes.

We must be clear, like in many other countries, what we are witnessing is an internal class conflict where the poor have become nothing more than cannon fodder. The ironies have already been expressed in how CEOs and the white middle class mostly supporting the #ZumaMustFall campaign have asked for workers and unemployed poor to join them in shutting down the country.

How can the poor be expected to forgive and forget when the same white middle and upper classes labeled protests by workers and students as "a nuisance" at least and racist and dehumanizing commentary at worst? Today these groupings mostly constituting the #ZumaMustFall Movement (if it can even be called that) shamelessly ask the workers and unemployed poor for solidarity.

On the other end of the spectrum we have watched the full unmasking of what Frantz Fanon labeled the 'national bourgeoisie' – the elite of the previously colonised population who have now emerged as the new rulers. This class in plain language is a parasitic "indigenous" class who is in most cases linked to global multinationals while often masking themselves and their real intentions behind nationalistic rhetoric such as "Radical Economic Transformation."

It is often hard to identify such a class because they are effective in using language that taps into very deep and real sense of destitution felt by the poor masses of a third world country. However, let it be not mistaken: the mission of this class is to overthrow the old masters and put themselves in their place.

As a black South African, the radical economic transformation narrative is very enticing; the country is unequal on all fronts, white people continue to live a better life than the majority of black people, many of us are still subject to racist violence, and lastly I am tired of not owning and calling the shots in the country of my birth. Indeed some sort of economic transformation is necessary but just because something is radical in name does not mean its radical in practice.

How can a class so dependent on government patronage and global value chains bring about any kind of transformation for the poor, when what the poor need the most is a state with capacity?

If we look closely at the new black elite, what is clear is that it is a class highly dependent on government patronage. Among them there are those who identify as industrialists but are actually little more than importers, dependent on securing a small piece of value chains managed by global multinationals. The question then remains, how can a class so dependent on government patronage and global value chains bring about any kind of transformation for the poor, when what the poor need the most is a state with capacity? Second, how can a class dependent on importing international products into a country be responsible for a nation's industrialization and import substitution? The answer is they can't: this class is incapable of driving industrialization. Nor can they add capacity to the state.

So, here we are with one class attempting to stay in control while another aims to gain control. Both use the poor as cannon fodder for their squabble while trying to persuade all of us that their missions are moral, justified and in the name of the poor. My analysis of the situation is that both classes are more united than then they seem. Both are united in their actions, both thrive and sustain their livelihoods on the back of poor black labour; both have used the state at different parts of history to amass their wealth at the cost of the poor; and finally, both speak the language of classism that paints the poor as "lazy", "entitled" and "too fertile for their own good".

Because I belong to this class of hypocrites, all I can conclude is that we are a disgusting and selfish people whom the poor will revolt against one day. Our time of reckoning is coming.