A middleclass for stability

Published: 01-OCT-03

Africa needs a middleclass if it is serious about economic and political stability and prosperity. This is the belief of Tendai Musikavanhu, chief executive officer of Umbono Fund Managers.

But why a middle class? And wouldn't it be the middle class that would become the most easily involved in political uprisings? Musikavanhu has a totally different theory.

He explained to delegates at the recent Black Business Summit held in Sandton, Johannesburg, that a typical middle class is exactly what South Africa, and the rest of the African continent need.

"Your typical middle class would have a reasonable income, a house to live in, and schools for their children to go to. They are definitely not rich people, but people who are content with life and have easy access to all the basic necessities.

"The reason why African countries need a big middle class, is that on the one hand - they work, which means that they make a contribution to the general economy of the country, and on the other hand, they would typically not do anything that would threaten their peaceful way of living.

Simply said - with a big middle class it means that there are more people that can loose something through a political uprising. Therefore, the chances for a content middle class to become involved in a political uprising is very slim," he explained.

Referring to the South African situation Musikavanhu says only about 27 percent of South Africa's population make a contribution to the economy. Of these, some are very affluent, while the rest form a small middle class, and a massive poor population which contributes very little to the economy or needs the economy to sustain them.

Musikavanhu stressed that the moment people have nothing to lose (the poor), they will do anything to get what they believe is owed to them and wouldn't mind taking huge risks for it.

Working together

But how can one create a big middleclass? By working together.

Musikavanhu stressed that it is not only government's responsibility to uplift the poor in the country, it is everybody's responsibility, especially that of the business world.

Musikavanhu's 'theory' is very much in line with the basic principles of the New Partnership for Africa's Development (Nepad) where the focus is about Africans helping themselves to political stability and economic prosperity.

Don't be complacent

Musikavanhu warned though that it is of utmost importance that the middle class must continue to be actively involved in the political arena of a country and not to become too complacent.

He gave the example of Zimbabwe where, although there was a huge and content middle class, the country became politically very unstable.

"The reason one can give for this is that over time, the middle class became too complacent and did not really care how much power was focussed in one person. By the time they realised what had happened, the damage was done," he explained.

He insisted that with Zimbabwe still having a big middle class, the problems in the country can be solved much sooner as what many people expect because the majority of the people would want to regain what they have lost.

He also warned that political parties must continue to debate within their own to ensure that they remain focussed on their goals and that they really work towards the benefit of all people in a country.

With Africa finding itself still with the majority of its people living in absolute poverty, and with many political uprisings around the continent, it is obvious that it will require much work from inside Africa, as well as help from the rest of the world, to build towards Musikavanhu dreams of an Africa where most people are happy and content with their lives.

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