The benefits of South Africa's BEE (Black Economic Empowerment) strategy have not yet trickled down to ordinary citizens and currently favour only the privileged few - or so believe an overwhelming majority of middle class black South Africans

This perception, along with other significant facts, emerges from Black Diamond, a landmark marketing survey recently undertaken by Research Surveys for the University of Capetown's Unilever Institute of Strategic Marketing.

The survey is hailed as the largest and most comprehensive study yet conducted on South Africa's burgeoning black middle class. Fieldwork for the survey was conducted over four months via face-to-face interviews with 750 adults from major metropolitan areas, equally divided between the sexes and ranging in age from 18-49.

Among the survey's key findings are:

  • Between 1998 and 2004, incomes grew 368% in upper income bracket black households - defined as those earning upward of R154,000 ($25.56k; €21.47k; £14.69k) annually.

  • Growth in this market cannot be attributed to young high flyers alone. A new unsuspected segment, dubbed the 'Emerged', is also a key driver in this market.

  • The 'Emerged' are slightly older and are in full-time employment, working in a wide range of professions. Approximately 25% are involved in education, with another 4% in senior education posts, while only 8% have their own small business within the formal sector.

  • Conspicuous spenders are not necessarily the most affluent, says survey director and project leader Refiloe Mataboge. "Marketers tend to target people who have just started their careers because they like to flash the little they have. This segment, which we have called the 'Start Me Ups' have hectic social lives and show off their earnings, but in fact have very little disposable income."

  • The survey also casts doubt on the popular belief that BEE affirmative action has fuelled frequent job-hopping among members of the black middle class. According to Black Diamond. 40% have changed position just once during the last three years, while only 15% have moved twice and 10% have changed jobs more than three times during that period.

  • A "pull-back" to cultural roots is often in contradiction with aspirations towards westernization. For example a significant number of respondents live in middle class suburbs during the week but travel to townships or rural areas at weekends to take part in traditional cultural activities.

  • The 'Emerged' sector of the market has been further split into discrete segments that take into account of age, educational level, income and location within major metropolitan areas (ie township or suburb). "This has major implications for South African marketers," says Rafiloe. "Not only will it lead to a better understanding of this grouping but will enable marketers to target more effectively."
Researchers from the UCT Unilever Institute and Research Surveys will present the in-depth findings of the Black Diamond study at seminars around the country early in March. For further information click here.

Data sourced from (South Africa); additional content by WARC staff