Continuity and Change in the South African Class Structure Since the End of Apartheid

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University of Cape Town

The overall shape of the class structure in South Africa changed little after 1994. The upper and middle classes have grown and prospered, and poverty has probably declined somewhat among the lower classes, but the basic shape remained unchanged. Evidence from survey data is consistent with data from other sources. The racial composition of some classes has changed, however, with steady upward mobility by black people into the upper classes. The class structure continues to entail three broad strata: affluent and increasingly deracialised upper classes, the lower middle and working classes which have enjoyed some improvements in their living conditions, and the lower classes of working poor and the underclass, for whom political change has brought fewest economic benefits. In contrast to Marxist analyses that see lower middle, working and lower classes as parts of the same class, this paper argues that these classes are best understood as two strata.