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Class struggle: South Africa's new, and few, black rich

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Fifteen years ago, during apartheid, Lemao Motaung was a medical technician in a research lab, testing blood samples for the state hospital and watching her white colleagues move past her up the career ladder.

Today, she's the owner of an up-and-coming distribution company, selling American-made electrical transmission cables to the nation's largest (and only) electrical utility – and the happy beneficiary of a new set of government policies that promote black-owned business.

But like everyone else in South Africa, Ms. Motaung admits that Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) – the state's policy of favoring black business after decades of white control – often seems more like a handout for the powerful few, rather than valuable assistance for the many.

"It is because of the new government that I am where I am today," says Motaung, sitting in the boardroom of her brand-new office in an industrial park near Johannesburg's airport. "But the way it's happening is that the big players – the key political people – are the ones who are getting everything. The [corporate types] are forgetting the total objective of black empowerment."

From sidewalk banter in black townships to the ferocious public spats between key members of the ruling party, the BEE programs have come to signify both the political progress and economic limits of South Africa's efforts to promote its black majority.

The palpable frustration aimed at BEE, which the ruling African National Congress (ANC) touts as a masterpiece of economic redistribution, is a sign that class is quickly replacing race as the defining social dynamic of postapartheid South Africa.

The high price of wealth

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