The strange thing about change is that no one expects it. It only becomes obvious when it is pointed out to us. It’s a bit like global warming or the exponential cost devaluation of computer memory. It seems to occur so slowly but when viewed over time, the shift is dramatic.
Our society is exactly the same with day-to-day, month-to-month shifts being indiscernible. Even year-on-year shifts are often explained as being “not statistically significant”.
Recently, like many South Africans, I was caught up in the sombre mood of the country, mostly due to Nelson Mandela’s ill health. I was pondering on the road we’ve all travelled and decided to look back some 16 years to 1996.
In 1996, globally we were talking about Mad Cow Disease and global warming. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission chaired by Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu began its hearings on human rights crimes committed by the previous government and liberation movements during the apartheid era. We had adopted a new constitution and as a country we were all rocking to the music of Los Del Rio and doing the Macarena with them!
Seems like yesterday.
The segment of the South African population that I decided to look at was the LSM 4-7 group… the ‘betweeners’. The people leaving, improving and moving up… but have still not quite ‘arrived’. This is the fertile foundation for the effects of socio-economic transformation. And boy what transformation there has been over the years.
Population-wise, we’ve seen an overall 54% growth in the size of this group and exponential growth as we review the individual LSM population distribution up to LSM 6.
The transition into LSM 7 is an interesting conundrum with complex issues around service delivery, education and locality having a real impact on the transition.
Looking at the rate of urbanisation, while there’s change it’s clear that the dramatic growth is coming through in the settlements (+231%), and small urban areas (+158%); in other words, those that are probably not key priorities for service delivery.
In percentage terms, the growth in LSM 4-7 representation in Limpopo has been the greatest, while numerically KwaZulu-Natal has experienced the largest growth. Unsurprisingly, the LSM 4-7 group is better prepared for the challenges with a 200%+ increase in the number of matriculation passes and a 550%+ increase in those successfully becoming artisans. Today over 34% of all
LSM 4-7s have a matric versus only 18% in 1996. And while there remains huge opportunity for continued improvement, there is nevertheless strong momentum.
With education comes literacy and over the past 16 years we’ve seen a 70% drop in illiteracy despite a healthy 54% growth within the LSM 4-7 group.
These individuals have been drawn into administrative and managerial positions… up a significant 178%. Sadly, despite the growth in artisans we’ve noted only a 27% improvement in LSM 4-7 employment in this occupation category. Could this be as a result of low access to the metro areas? Possibly.
In terms of household income, in 1996 the largest single representation of LSM people (21%) enjoyed a household income of between R2 000 and R3 999. Today, 49% enjoy a household income of between R2 500 to R7 999. The current household income for LSM 4-7 is R6 175.
With improved education comes income and as we’ve seen, more income means that people need banking. Over this period, we note a 113% growth in this segment’s use of savings accounts and a 20% increase in access to credit cards.
Their lifestyles have changed and with these changes there has been a real shift in shopping habits. Bulk once-a-month shopping is still the key habit with almost 60% of LSM 4-7s (up from 48%), but there’s strong growth in shopping twice a month which has grown by 137%, and an 80% decline in daily or twice-a-week shopping.
Media wise, access has increased and no doubt in the months ahead we’ll hear more about increased fragmentation of opportunities targeting this key segment with affordable, quality (not cheap) entertainment. Currently 41% of DStv subscribers are within LSM 4-7 and generally we’re seeing increased focus by all platforms (radio, print and out of home as well as mobile to some degree) targeting this group.
With this sort of growth, how can anyone be pessimistic about the future of our country? Sure there will be short-term issues, but the long-to-medium term is showing such tangible advances. How can we not be excited about the future?
Gordon Patterson is the group managing director of the Starcom MediaVest Group and chairman of VivaKi SA.
IMAGE: Wikimedia Creative Commons