As the international sanctions movement struggles to maintain its momentum, a major nationwide survey released yesterday has revealed that two thirds of black South Africans support sanctions.
The survey was conducted during August and September by the Community Agency for Social Enquiry. This was the same group which compiled a similar, controversial report two years ago showing that most blacks supported disinvestment by foreign companies. The survey – which for the first time included people in the rural areas – also revealed that African National Congress leader Nelson Mandela and the ANC are the country's most popular political actors for blacks.
Mark Orkin, a director of Case, said yesterday that the repression of three successive States of Emergency had shown blacks that it was "essential that the full range of pressures should be brought to bear to help end apartheid". Out of the sample of 800 respondents, 46 percent said sanctions should be applied until the South African government lifted the Emergency, freed political prisoners, unbanned political organisations and abandoned apartheid.
Orkin said 21 percent supported "an even more adamant view" – that sanctions should be enforced unconditionally until the government surrendered power. Only 26 percent of blacks in the cities and in the rural areas were opposed to sanctions, fearing that it would stunt economic growth.
The results are similar to the 1985 questionnaire when about a quarter of respondents supported hardline disinvestment, a quarter opposed disinvestment and one half favoured conditional disinvestment. However, the 1985 poll was conducted only in the cities whereas 59 percent of the respondents in the latest survey were from the rural areas, 14 percent from small towns and 27 percent metropolitan. In the metropolitan areas, support for sanctions was more widespread. A total of 29 percent favoured hardline sanctions, 52 percent backed conditional sanctions while 14 percent were opposed to sanctions.
Orkin pointed out that compared to the 1985 figures, the support for economic pressures had increased among blacks in the cities. A new question – on whether respondents were prepared to continue supporting sanctions if these resulted in job losses for blacks – also produced some surprising results. The number of hard-liners, who stood by the sanctions position whatever the unemployment costs, declined to 14 percent overall. A second intermediate group who were prepared to see some but not many blacks unemployed as a result of sanctions dropped to 26 percent while 60 percent were not willing to support any job losses.
"The pressure to use economic measures is increasing at the same time as the growth in unemployment is worrying people," said Orkin. "Taken together, the results illuminate the policy decisions on sanctions of the unions, the churches and popular political tendencies. "They are calling for sanctions to be comprehensive rather than partial, and mandatory rather than voluntary, in the hope that this way sanctions will achieve the greatest possible political impact, while causing unavoidable economic hardship for the shortest possible time."
The survey on political leadership revealed that nationally 24 percent supported the ANC, seven percent the United Democratic Front, six percent Archbishop Desmond Tutu and 11 percent Inkatha while 10 percent supported the government. Within the metropolitan areas, the ANC received 35 percent, the UDF 13 percent, Tutu nine percent and Inkatha eight percent.
"The leadership figures display a close continuity with the earlier survey," said Orkin. "This confirms the reliability of the study and indicates the steady evolution of black opinion responding to political events. "Since 1985 the only appreciable change is that support for the ANC has risen a few percent and that Tutu has lost support (from 16 percent in 1985) as he has moved residence away from the Witwatersrand."
The questions were framed so that each position was explained alongside the political groups which support it. For instance, the question for those opposing sanctions, read: "This view is supported by PW Botha, and the Nationalist government, by the PFP, by businessmen like Harry Oppenheimer and by homeland leaders like Chief Buthelezi."
Doubt was cast on the findings yesterday by Professor Lawrence Schlemmer, director of the Centre for Policy Studies at Wits University, who was himself criticised for a survey he did two years ago into black attitudes on disinvestment Schlemmer said that given that the options on sanctions were linked to political leadership, the question was not about sanctions but a mixture involving both sanctions and support for leaders.
"I am surprised that as many as 26 percent of people oppose sanctions given that to do so would be to associate with the government. That this has been done biases the response against rejection of sanctions. "This is not comparable with other surveys and the respondent is faced with the critical dilemma to support sanctions or his political leadership."
Orkin said yesterday that as with the earlier study, it was important not only to mention the policy positions but also as background to give the important party political tendencies associated with each position.
This article originally appeared in the Weekly Mail.