Over the last decade or so, the topic of a rising Africa’s middle class (the social group between what we used to call the WaBenzi and the labourers, including professional and business people and their families) has rarely been out of the news headlines. That the middle class is growing in countries such as my native Kenya and South Africa where I live is undeniable. However, what we could argue about are the maridadi [pretty] levels of middle classness.
In my unscientific estimates, Cape Town’s middle class would be seen as aspiring WaBenzi in Kenya, whereas many of Nairobi’s middle class people might be seen to be on the lower rungs of the middle of the ladder by South African standards.
South Africans generally seem to have more to show by way of the maridadi lifestyle accoutrements of the middle classes than Kenya does. Check out my unscientific evidence.
When you are flying into Cape Town (a city that like Nairobi has just under 4 million inhabitants), one of the things you notice about many of the homes you can see on the ground below you is how many of them have swimming pools. Once you get on the ground and look about the housing market, you find that the swimming pools are not restricted to the homes of the wealthy as is the case in Nairobi, but that a good number of ordinary middle class home dwellers also have swimming pools.
A number of these swimming pools may be seasonal (inflatable pools set up during the hot summer months) but they are swimming pools nonetheless.
In comparison, one hardly sees any swimming pools as you fly over Nairobi. It would seem they are not de rigueur for most homes there. In fact, if you google ‘Swimming pool services’ in Nairobi, only four firms come up, and all of them engage in the construction of pools as well as their care and maintenance. In Cape Town, the number shoots to 22 firms.
Then there is the business of white goods. These are large electrical goods used domestically, such as refrigerators, dishwashers and washing machines, typically white in colour and referred to here in South Africa by some people I know as ‘the white maid’.
In Nairobi, most people, rich and poor, have some sort of domestic worker - misleadingly referred to as a house help, as if they only lend a helping hand around the house, when in fact, they cook, iron clothes, scrub the floors, clean the windows, dust the furniture, mind the children and wash the clothes and bed linen by hand.
In Cape Town, most domestic workers will only cook one meal, supper, do basic dusting, and then use a vacuum cleaner to clean the floors, a washing machine to launder the clothes and a dishwasher to do the dishes, if the householders have not already done so themselves.
That is probably why Nairobi only has four washing machine repair shops that come up on Google search while, Cape Town shows 14.
Nairobi has some catching up to do.