Consumption Patterns of the New Elite in Zimbabwe
Since Zimbabwean independence in 1980, a small percentage of the black population has become wealthy. This paper and a companion video explore the consumption patterns of members of this new black elite in post-colonial Zimbabwe. Given the violent war of independence and the avowedly socialist objectives of the new government, one expectation might be that the new black elite would seek to distinguish their lifestyles from those of the former colonialists. On the other hand, it could be argued that taking over the privileges of the former colonialists would be regarded as an authenticating mark of status for these black elites. And another possibility, in our increasingly global world, is that consumption referents may not come from Zimbabwe at all, but rather from media images of consumption in other parts of the world. This qualitative study finds that the consumption patterns of these nouveaux riches largely, but not entirely, emulate those of the former colonialists. In addition, informats clearly look to the West, particularly the U.S. and the U.K., for social comparisons. One negative effect of the enhanced economic status of the new elite in Zimbabwe is a tendency to eschew extended family support which is the traditional form of social security in much of Africa. Besides their increased wealth, for some, fundamentalist religion provides another rationale for neglecting extended family. Rising individualism and retreat to the nuclear family promote tension within the extended family and envy among others. Implications for understanding class structure and it implications in developing nations are addressed.
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