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The black middle class and democracy in South Africa*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  10 November 2014

Roger Southall*
Department of Sociology, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg 2050, South Africa


Against the background of celebrations about the rise of a middle class in Africa and its widely posited role in promoting democracy, this paper explores the politics of the black middle class in South Africa. It does so by examining three propositions: first, that the black middle class was a positive force in the struggle for liberation and democracy; second, that post-1994 strategies of the African National Congress (ANC) government which have benefited it secure its political alignment with the ANC's ‘party-state’; and third, that its growth and increasing diversity will contribute to the consolidation of democracy. The conclusion drawn is that while the black middle class may indeed play an important role in furthering democracy, its political orientations and behaviour cannot be assumed to be inherently progressive.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2014 

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An earlier version of this article was presented as a Van Zyl Slabbert public lecture at the University of Cape Town in November 2013.



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