Africa / African / Men

What do Middle Class African Men in Post-apartheid South Africa Want: Money, Fame, or Carrying the White Man’s Bags?

Having served nearly three decades as a political prisoner of apartheid, Nelson Mandela became the first president of democractic South Africa in 1994. He had two deputies, the white deputy-president FW De Klerk and the black deputy-president Thabo Mbeki


What do middle class African men in post-apartheid South Africa want?

This is not the same question that Frantz Fanon asked. But it is close.

Fanon’s question was, “What does a man want? What does a black man want?” To carry the white man’s and mulatto’s bags. This is one of many answers Fanon gave. Ouch. He can be harsh, Fanon; even when he is insightful.

Do these answers hold for the South Africa of 2013? Obviously, brothers have moved on up a few steps. As said in a previous post, the middle class in Africa is said to be growing, and the same is observable in South Africa. Mandela was released. Legal apartheid ended. Blacks got to vote. Mandela became president of the new republic. Then came Mbeki, Motlhanthe, and now Zuma. The African middle man on occassion takes on a white face, voice, or bearing. And a few gentle African men’s bags are carried by whites.

Today in South Africa, then, there is no single, simple answer to the question, what do middle class African men in post-apartheid South Africa want.

There cannot be one easy answer to the question because complexity, always inherent in social groups if you look close enough (intra-group contestations and dynamics being key elements of collectives), is now even more so.

Of course there stereotypes about African men. You know them. They are not going to fade away soon. However, if you can manage to avoid closing your mind, you soon learn that the question of African men demands many answers, qualifications, and exceptions. Although elegant solutions are to be favoured over overly complicated ones, a definite, straightforward, generalizable answer the question of African men’s wants will always be convincing, always likely to be half-a-truth. It must fail to convince us because the factors that make males men are even more complex in transitional times as experienced in South Africa.

Perhaps one should then ask what value in the first place do we derive from trying to answer such a multifaceted question. Why do we want to know what middle class African men in post-apartheid South Africa want?

Because there is something worthwhile in trying to know African men’s experiences, thoughts, feelings, practices and lives.

Because we will not have such knowledge if we confine ourselves for example to studying only national economies, war, law, and medicine, and not African men as men.

Because it is as informative to investigate a Mopedi youngster or Sudanese soldier, for example, as a part of the Bapedi ethnic group or the Sudanese nation as it is to look at them as young men of the Bapedi and male soldiers in Sudan.

All that is to say, it is as important to consider a man as a part of the group called men as it is to study him as an wage-earner, class-member, warlord, perp, patient, ‘tribesman’ or citizen.

So, it is in studying men as men that we come to know that African men are likely to give all the answers that Fanon said St Peter received from the white man and mulatto. Money, fame, and carrying other men’s bags: all of these, and quite a few others, St Peter will get from African middle class men.

African man being served lunch at a restaurant in Rosebank, Gauteng, South Africa, January 2013

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