Race And Class Structure Of South Africa Sociology Essay

The issue of race which sometimes could be looked on as ethnicity has habitually been a very debatable issue among scholars, researchers and some scientists. Closely linked with this is the controversy surrounding the issue of identity which has been the cause of war and some other similar problems in the past; the result of which is evident in today’s multicultural and multi-ethnic societies. In some parts of the world, it is usually difficult to classify a particular group of people or tie them down under a specific identity. In many cases, identities are usually sometimes related to position or hierarchy which can be linked to classification in terms of high, middle, low; in some other cases however, this classification which may be seen in different perspective, could be broad such as ‘rich’ and ‘poor’ categories. Racial and ethnic classifications have led to the concept of `ethclass´ with the help of which alternatives in group identification can be understood across all classes and ethnic groups which is illustrated in the classification rendered above. The discussion on race and class which has been up for many years and is still going on among researchers and students can be seen as the descriptions of history of different people in a particular area and misconception about race are no less prevalent now than they were many years ago. Stephen stated that “from an evolutionary standpoint it was evident that the race relation cycle was a universal phenomenon” (Steinberg, 2001:2).

The issue of race and class is an issue that has brought forward conflict, discrimination and many more that has happened in so many countries. In Burundi, it is the discrimination or classification between the Hutus and the Tutsis; in America, the classification of black Americans and the white Americans and some other classification included in America due to multiculturalism. In Germany, it is the classification between the Jews, Turks and the typical Germans; and in South Africa, it is the classification and discrimination between the blacks and the white South Africans. If we take the case of the Americans, it is seen that many people who are born in the USA and automatically are US citizens are still segregated from those who believe they are the main citizen of the country due to history, progeny and lineage. “Race creates a ´group` only when it is subjectively perceived as a common trait” (Weber, 1922:52). These implies that in the US, it is glaring that race is nothing new to majority of the Americans it is normal to them and should be practiced and showed through an attitude or behaviour towards who they do not like by way of segregation. Weber make a claim that, the fact that several million mulattoes (a person with one black parent and one white parent) in the United States speaks clearly opposed to the assumption of happenings between people of different races antipathy, even among quite different races (ibid, 1922: 53). The explanation of the problems caused by race and class above will lead me to my point of departure and the focus of my paper on the issue of race and class structure in South Africa

Race and Class Structure in South Africa

The subject of the place and role of race, class and ethnicity has been at the focus of discussion and deliberation about the character of the South African problem and the strategies necessary to solve it (Nengwekhulu, p.29). South Africa being an African country is known to be a black country, which the majority of its population should also be black and so it should be for the majority of the workers, non workers and probably the farmers because Africa is generally known to be an agrarian continent. Therefore we can find several people being farmers at the subsistence level. In the aftermath of South Africa’s 1948 elections, as the Afrikaners who are the white minority in SA, National Party (NP) began enforcing its apartheid policies on the majority who are the blacks in SA. Inspired by religious mythology and legitimized by the Dutch Reformed Churches, Afrikaner nationalism controlled the State or the country of South Africa. These minority non-black rulers made and enforce series of rules that dichotomized the bi-racial South African ethnic landscape. These rules involving political, legal, and economic discrimination against non-whites are collective called ‘apartheid’. During the regime of apartheid, there were a lot of discrimination, using race and class structure as tools of oppression and segregation. Part of the discrimination is racial classification, racial domination and profiling between the white and black and not leaving out the rich and poor. The white are classified as the rich and the higher class people while blacks are seen as the lower class people and segregated from the whites. During the apartheid regime, the blacks were segregated from the white in terms of where they live and where they can live, the kind of work they can do. The ethnic blacks and the white rulers cannot intermarry; they can only associate in well defined and highly limited scenarios or circumstances. The whites are eligible to do only the high paying and mostly official and profitable duties while the blacks are limited to those works that are naturally difficult and with unprofitable and low incomes such as mining and subsistence farming. In a clear statement, the blacks became aliens in their own country as a result of the apartheid revolution. “With respect to racial equality, contrary to initial assumptions, inter-race income disparity remains a greater determinant of inequality than intra-race differences. In other words, the aggregate difference between White and non-White, incomes is the dominant reason for South Africa’s extraordinarily high Gini coefficient” (Zain et al, 2009:7). Couple with the quote above, it is noted that the white (Afrikaners) ruled with apartheid revolution from 1961 to 1989 with the National Party (NP) before the African National Congress took over.

In a nutshell, it is worthy to note that before the advent of the apartheid regime in 1948, people of South Africa including the white settlers lived in harmony. There were the normal happenings between members of the same group, country or organization and tribal warfare which is similar to those that happens in many other countries of the world but 1948 proved to be a pivotal point in the history of South Africa whereby the white minorities, mainly the descendants of the anglo-dutch people that have been ruling since the 18th century decided to introduce laws that favours ethnic segregation, discrimination, racial classification, racial domination and profiling and the general introduction of class structure. The foregoing led Nengwekhulu to observe that “the white racism and the articulation of racial consciousness by blacks cannot therefore just be ignored on the basis that they are expression of false consciousness and epiphenomena of the economic base” (Nengwekhulu, p.29). The scheme of “grand apartheid,” which begun at that time and lead to the delineated separate schooling, jobs, pay and places to live, and deprived most black Africans of citizenship in South Africa. Forgetting the fact that Africans has the massive and growing majority in South Africa, while whites are the minority; national liberation there would mean a profound change in who ruled. Nengwekhulu, in his article, explain further in the problems faced by the South African people with the illustration that “South African situation and in formulating strategies for the elimination of black domination and exploitation whilst according to both race and ethnicity a place and role in this analysis and formulation of a strategy for black liberation and for social change” (ibid, p.30). In other words, we can say the matter of race, class and ethnicity is not only of crucial theoretical but it is also a matter of powerful political significance for it is on the basis of the resolution of this question that the proper ground work can be laid not only for political strategies for the struggle against black exploitation but also for the construction of a future South Africa. Race discrimination, prejudice and ideology in South Africa are therefore not what happens or what people do without trying to change anything or oppose them in fundamentals of whose existence is determined automatically. They are however social matter which is not fully understood with a relative autonomy. For this reason, race discrimination and prejudice has always existed between the blacks and white and the colours in South Africa now they interact with each other while maintaining their identities. The incidence of apartheid in South Africa from 1948 to 1994 could be linked in retrospect to a form of social misnomer that is opposed to the classical form of Marxism. Marxism is based upon a materialist interpretation of history. Taking the idea that social change occurs because of the struggle between different classes and races within society who are under contradiction of one against the other. The Marxist analysis leads to the conclusion that capitalism, the currently dominant form of economic management, leads to the oppression of the proletariat as in the case of the South African apartheid era, who not only make up the majority of the world’s populace but who also spend their lives working for the benefit of the bourgeoisie, or the wealthy ruling class in society. From the foregoing, I will attempt to explore the Marxist ideals and how it could be extended to explain the socio-economic dis-enfranchisation of the black majority as it happened in the apartheid in South Africa.


The Marxist vision of society and history was presented in the 1848 “Communist Manifesto” in dramatic narrative form, sketching out the rise of capitalism and bourgeois society and its revolutionary overthrow by the industrial proletariat (Harrington, 2005:154). According to Karl Marx, Marxism is as a philosophy of history couple with an economic doctrine. He further explains Marxism also as a theory of revolution and the basic explanation for how societies go through the process of change (Marx, p: 2). He explains his idea by using two basics of ideas that is in demonstrating and explaining his idea of Marxism which they are MATERIALISM and CLASS STRUGGLE. By Materialism of Marxism, Marx aimed that the engine that drives society is the economy. Economic forces are more complex and pervasive than we think; According to Marx, they even determine how we think: “Consciousness is from the very beginning a social product (Mazlish, 1984, p. 94). That is, the way at which people incorporate there things in when we talk about human material life shapes every part of humans life including the most important aspects that could include general character of the societal, community, public, political, and spiritual or religious practice of life. This could also be that it does not have to be that the well being of human that can prove the fact of their state of being but having in mind that the social life of human can also be a determinant in their consciousness. By Class Struggle which is the idea that is applicable to the problem of class structure in South Africa. “Marxist analysis takes historical materialism a step further. All of human history can be explained and predicted by the competition between antagonistic economic classes, or as Marx put it, “The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.” In political terms, this means that the social classes are competing in essence for control of the state-or, as Marxists would put it: the class that controls the Mode of Production also controls the State” (Marx, 1818-1883,p: 4). The existence of class struggle that brought about the Marxist idea is applicable to the situation of South Africa because South Africa in the time of the apartheid government or ruler was one of the most hideously racist administrations during the time of twentieth century, a very obvious case of the bourgeois ruling class oppressing the majority proletariats (Zain, 2009:8). This struggle lead to the idea that social change occur due to class and race problem of discrimination between white and black South Africans.

The existence of class struggle which is one of the basic tenets of Marxism as clearly evident in the case of South Africa “sought to overcome the dogma and reductionism of Stalinism and Trotskyism, to engage with history as a living process rather than a mechanical formula, to found a historical consciousness linking local struggles to global processes, and implant itself in a working-class movement which sought to control its own destiny, openly and democratically, rather than submitting to the authority of nationalism or pseudo-science” (Nash, 1999:66). In other words, it can also be noted that the regime of the apartheid in South Africa in the 1970s can be seen as Western Marxism as portrayed in Douglas Kellner article. In terms of the Western Marxism, South Africa started with the recognition in the midst of white students that are not among the social force that could bring about innovative change into the country South Africa. “In a global context, this generation of South African Marxists played a vital role in interpreting for the Western left, in the terms of their own thought, a struggle which had come to be “crucial to the whole history of our time”” (ibid: 1999:66, quoted in “Sweezy and Magdoff, 1986). In the analysis of Marx and Engels who are the author of Marxism, cultural ideas of a period serve is always to the comfort of the ruling class, providing ideologies that justifiable the domination of class. They make analysis of “Ideology” clarifying it as a critical term for Marxian that describes how dominant ideas of a ruling class promote the interests of that class and help mask oppression, injustices, and negative aspects of the specific culture, society or country. The introduction of the apartheid in South Africa includes the above mentioned in the case whereby most of the blacks were separated from the white. The blacks South Africans were leaving in a place where they can be classified as the lower class group and the white due to the kind of job and the place they live are seen as the high class and that is what the system of the apartheid illustrate “segregation”. At every situation in South Africa, white students or the white ethnic group were in a lot of ways allowed to their opinions and decisions on their own different individualities, with limitation that could do as ethical individuals that has no living history of struggle to be identified with, which includes the relationship to their history.

Marxism as the political and economic theories of Karl Marx during the 1818 – 1883 that should give details of the changes, alterations, modifications and developments in a particular society or country that is implanted by implementing socialism. The implementation of socialism was supposed to be based on the belief that everyone has the same equal right in a country’s at which the government would have to own and control the main industries and not by private settings. But in the case of South Africa, the ruling system by the apartheid regime was not for equal right or for the development of the changes that were altered, but it brought differences between the black and the white which could be seen as racial dominant in South Africa. In other words, instead of the implementation of socialism, the case of South Africa led to capitalism. That is, instead of equal right as socialism represent; it was a system at which South Africa country’s businesses and industry are controlled and run for profit by private owners (the Afrikaners (whites)) which means “I am not free to be open to the other as a person. I have to manipulate the other in such a way as to obtain things. And to manipulate the other I have to manipulate myself” (Wolpe, 1980:21). In other words, capitalism did not basically take advantage of human beings whose underlying identity or personality was left otherwise indifferent by their experience of class mismanagement. The regime of apartheid which is that practices of Capitalism in South African can be viewed as the focused and attention to the relationship between the country’s economy and its polity, specifically on the relationship between class and race to build differences, racial capitalism and segregation between the working class people and the lower class people and South Africa being an Africa and a black country at large which was ruled by the white government who came up with the system of apartheid which was viewed as “racial domination”.

Thus, the Marxism ideology is used to analyze the situation that occurred in the 1970s to 1980s till the end of apartheid in 1994 in South Africa. This is because when the white (the Germans, French, Irish and the British) who are known at the long run as the Afrikaners because of their way of life, and due to believes and culture and also that the Afrikaners view themselves as Africans and not as white people. They brought churches and believe into South Africa and because of the culture and believe they brought, these made the main South Africa people to believe in them and be rest assured of their words and whatever they promised of doing. Even though they are seen as the minority, they still have principal contributions to what is happening in the country and to the dos and don’ts in South Africa. With these minds of the Afrikaners, they created a political party that promised the people and the ethnic South Africans as a result of their trusts and basic cultural beliefs and ideologies allowed the white Afrikaans to have their ways. Part of the campaign during the election was the introduction of Apartheid which was introduced in 1948 to be practiced. Thereafter they implemented series of laws that promises a lot as the ideology portrays which is supposed to be for “socialism” but instead lead to segregation of the white and the blacks in South Africa. The idea of Marxism is to create equal right for everyone in the country while the government alone rule the country at which the Marxist theory is implemented. On the contrary in an unfortunate manner, most of the countries at which the Marxist theory was implemented did not survive with the Marxist theory due to the wrong implementation of the theory. “The question of the place, role and relationship of race, class and ethnicity is not only of crucial theoretical significance but it is also a matter of powerful political significance” (Nengwekhulu, p: 30). The white South Africa’s used the apartheid and the implementation of Marxism which they promised during the campaigns to acquire economic advantages and these economic advantages they never want to lose for any reason because it is of a great impact to their racist regime. A similar occurrence in some other countries has led to serious outcomes. If we take the case in France during the 18th century, the practices of oppression lead to war between the bourgeois and the proletariats. In their case, the bourgeois are the upper class people, the ruling class, and wealthy people while the proletariats are the working class people. Therefore because the bourgeois are the ruling class, they believe in power and used their power in differentiation and segregation between the working and the ruling class which later lead to war. As a result of these in South Africa, equal right as the theory portrays, the white goes to different schools, live in a separate environment, work in separate place and they have no say in what is going on within the country. The apartheid government isolate and keep apart the education, health care, and other community services, thereby make available black people with lower services compare to those of white people. Apartheid and the non-implementation of the true tenets of Marxism, led to deep class division between races and classes in South Africa failed because theirs was an oppressive form of government that put class wedges between different races and classes in the country. The race, class and separation of the white from the black in South Africa eventually lead to the struggle of class and race structure. In the manner, the black South Africans struggle for their race and class.

The black South Africans during the racist regime in the 1970s to the 1980s which was the apartheid regime, after being promised a lot but instead was initiated with differences, maltreatment and segregation lost trust in the National Party (NP) people and had to struggle for their right which is equal right for everyone. In other words, non implementation of the true ideals of Marxism led to deep divide between the races and classes of people in South Africa. Nowadays, since 1994 onwards, we have a succession of governments that tries to practice equality among the disparate genders and classes of South Africa. The issue of racial discrimination and ethno-centric profiling has been reduced to the barest minimum. People are no longer hounded or massacred when they demand for their rights under the ethics citizenship as opposed to what happened in the Sharpeville massacre of the 1950’s. Although we still have to a quite subliminal level the issue of class relating to the economic situations of the different classes of South Africans but the same is what is happening in many other countries that practices loose form of Marxism laced with high doses of Socialism such as the case of South Africa. It still remains a highly agrarian country but in the general case, it is no longer at the subsistence level. The proletariats that are majorly involved in the mining business now have a satisfying sense of belonging. Racial desegregation of South Africa has brought about mutual economic emancipation to the hitherto different classes of people as people that use to initially feel disenfranchised in their homeland now seems to have enhanced sense of belonging.

The country still have its normal problem of crime, intrinsic economic instabilities, manipulation of governmental policies and general increased in awareness among the populace of the lassitude of their economic drive, but the same trend is being witnessed in several other developing countries that are middle ranked in the committee of nations such as South Africa. No longer do we have issues that relate to economic listlessness provoked by racial disparities and ethnic discrimination. South Africa in subsequent years as a country is still trying to dissociate from the lethargy and scariness harbingered by the Apartheid era but we now have in the country peace occasioned by sense of belonging.

The general feelings in South Africa now are revealed through one of the speeches of Nelson Mandela after voting in the first South African democratic election and took the office in 1994, which initiates a new regime. Now we moved from a regime of doubt, separation, limited opportunities, disorder and conflict. In other word, a new era is starting to give hope, resolution and to build the nation. Thus a genuinely cast of voter results will give prospect to all the South Africans and make them realize the country is theirs and they are one nation.

The speech thus goes that the fundamental requirements of majority of the citizens will be talked, such as the provision for employment, accommodation, and the initiation of power supply. Including the constructions “of schools and hospitals, providing free, compulsory quality education, running water, paved roads” (Natal, 1994) stating that these are their main concern which includes the minorities the white (Afrikaners). He made clear citizens should have confidence also that there would be security to those who are bothered that by these transformations and revolutions, which might not be of benefit or improvement to them. “I again repeat that I have throughout my life as I pointed out in the Rivonia Trial: I have fought very firmly against white domination. I have fought very firmly against black domination. I cherish the idea of a new South Africa where all South Africans are equal and work together to bring about security, peace and democracy in our country. I sincerely hope that the mass media will use its powerful position to ensure that democracy is installed in this country” (ibid: 1994). Since this historic speech at Inanda, Kwazulu Natal in April 1994, South Africa has continued to grow in leaps and bounds albeit with the normal problems that a budding and truly developing country might experience. From the foregoing, it could be inferred that any country that intermarry the basic tenets of the proletariat Marxism with democratic ideals may very well reap the benefits. However, the practices of these ideals must be in sync with true respect for the basic and fundamental rights of the citizenry. No nation may be able to move forwards if these ideals are violated.

In many other countries of the world such as Iran in 1979, Russia in 1917 and France in 1789-1799, ruler ships by potentates and maximum rulers were done away with due to their well documented lack of care for the needs of the proletariats and the masses in their charge. In these countries, the initial deep chasm between the rulers and the proletariats were very well abridged due to introduction of class and ethnic declassification. So also in South Africa, the gain of racial declassification since 1994 and the introduction of almost a classless society is still unfolding and times will be able to show if truly the new trend could be maintained well into the future and if it will truly continue to benefit the entire people of South Africa.

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