Scholarly attempts to address the dual impact of economic growth and apartheid labour policies on the racial division of labour in the 1970s and 1980s produced markedly divergent estimates of the extent to which the colour bar was being eroded by employment growth. This study revisits the debate by applying new concepts about the division of labour to South African employment statistics. The reason why scholars came up with such different estimates of the size of the African middle class is that they relied on inappropriate neo-Marxist theories of class and on official occupational categories. On the other hand, I argue for a more eclectic conceptualisation of occupational groups that incorporates neo-Weberian class schemes and labour process theory. The result is an occupational classification that tries to be sensitive to the ways in which the racial division of labour was shaped by the legal and institutional mechanisms of racial discrimination, by the level of certification of the population, and by workplace dynamics. I go on to demonstrate the utility of this occupational taxonomy by applying it to the Manpower Survey results. One important finding is that African advancement into professional jobs during this period was largely restricted to semi-professional occupations such as those of schoolteachers, nurses, technicians and priests — a result that points to the state's role in expanding the size of the African middle class. A second finding is that African advancement into private sector clerical and sales jobs was far greater than into the skilled trades. These results point to the role of white trade unions and the character of the labour process in shaping the racial division of labour during the apartheid era.