The findings of a survey on personal income have added fuel to the debate raging between the Congress of the People and the Black Management Forum over the need for affirmative action policies.
A Bureau of Market Research (BMR) report from Unisa has revealed that 83percent of black South Africans earn between zero and R50000 a year, compared with 37,9percent of white adults in the same income group. Seventy percent of coloured adults and 57,8percent of Asian adults fall within this income group.
BMF president Jimmy Manyi said yesterday: "I trust this will provide empirical evidence in terms of how much work needs to be done to uplift black people. We need to get the whole country behind affirmative action so that we can sort out this 83percent," said Manyi.
But Carel van Aardt, professor at the BMR, said the wage gap between the races was narrowing, assisted by policies such as affirmative action and black economic empowerment.
"A lot more blacks are moving into the emerging middle class - the R100000 to R300000 income category - and into the realised middle class - the R300000 to R500000 income category," he said.
He said black people now outnumbered white people in the emerging middle-class category, and the number of black South Africans in the realised middle class was seeing rapid growth.
"We found that there are two glass ceilings, one at R50000 and one at R500000," said Van Aardt.
"The biggest determining factor would be skills. Labour absorption of skilled people is on the increase, but absorption of unskilled people is on the decrease. At R500000 a lot of people employed in the formal sector are not successful in moving into formal sector self-employment."
There is, however, also a gaping divide between the sexes, with men dominating the rankings among top earners, outnumbering women nearly five to one in the R750000 plus category, he said.
Van Aardt said the gender gap in earnings was "purely historical" and that the gap was narrowing.
He added that self-employment needed to be emphasised, education needed to be more labour-market orientated and the lowest income category of workers needed to be uplifted.