Race and Class Impact on the Elections

South Africa’s stark levels of inequality are highly racialised. Fifteen years of democracy have shown an increase in inequality within race groups, particularly among black South Africans.

So what impact will this have on the election in April?

Read more to explore the notion that party identification in South Africa may be driven more by class interests rather than racial credentials.

It has been said that our democracy is an adolescent and that the 2009 elections will indicate just how far we have come in consolidating our democratic gains. An important part of that is the transformation of race politics, where electoral support is less racially polarised, and more concerned with voters’ policy concerns and interests.

The emergence of a black middle and upper class has de-racialised the upper income group, which has traditionally been the key support base for the opposition. And along with this we have seen the emergence of a new political current, in the form of COPE. COPE is multi-racial in its support base and may very well be perceived by black voters as having racial credentials not enjoyed by other opposition parties such as the DA. This may be due to the fact that its leadership retains a well documented history within South Africa’s liberation struggle and more recently, within the ANC government.

Race and class are interrelated though. They cannot be viewed in isolation of each other, particularly in the South African context. However, the perception of class credentials is what drives the electoral sums calculated by South African voters. Perceptions of class, more so than race, drive voter behaviour and inform voters’ engagement with political parties.

To understand more about the interplay between class and race cleavages in South African society, read the full brief here.


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