Class Identities in Soweto after Apartheid

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How do people see class in Soweto after Apartheid? Pockets of poverty have sprung up alongside acres of commercial ‘bond houses’ in this township on the outskirts of Johannesburg. Political organisation has altered, unemployment has rocketed. The paper considers two questions. First, how have popular models of class responded? In our 60 qualitative interviews, the dominant deprived/middle/upper model was described with a keen eye for the details of respondents’ lives and their neighbours’ (such as using a shopping trolley or a basket). Second, how do these models relate to people’s existence? For example, 60% of respondents in our survey of 2400 Sowetans called themselves middle class, although half of those live on less than $70 a month. What makes them see themselves as middle class? Housing type, for example, turns out to be related to class identity though not always as one would expect. People who called themselves poor are more likely to live in shacks as expected but people who call themselves middle class are most likely to live in renovated council housing, not the new bond houses. The paper uses the survey data to further investigate associations between people’s class identities (they may have more than one) and their opinions, lifestyles, living standards, and even their diet.


Keywords: Soweto, Class, Identity
Stream: Ethnicity, Difference, Identity
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
Paper: A paper has not yet been submitted.


Mosa Phadi

Researcher, Centre for Sociological Research, University of Johannesburg
Johannesburg, South Africa


Claire Ceruti

Researcher, Centre for Sociological Research, University of Johannesburg
Johannesburg, South Africa


Ref: H08P0326