A conservative bunch

After last week’s United States presidential election the world derided American voters for electing George W Bush, particularly as many of them cited his strong moral values and conservative views on gay marriage and abortion as the clincher.

But a report by the Human Sciences Research Council shows that most South Africans share the moral values on which Bush based his re-election campaign, and that in many instances we are more conservative than Britons or Americans.

The survey revealed that more than three-quarters of South Africans are opposed to same-sex relationships and abortion, and that the same proportion supports the death penalty.

Of the respondents interviewed 78% say that it is “always wrong for two adults of the same sex to have sexual relations”.
The question that was posed to respondents was: “Do you think it is wrong or not wrong for two adults of the same sex to have sexual relations?” The same question was used in the British Social Attitudes Survey, European Social Surveys and the International Social Surveys Programme. In Britain, 27% of respondents stated that they thought it was not wrong at all, while in South Africa the figure was just 5%.

The report on public attitudes is part of South African Social Attitudes, written by Stephen Rule and Bongiwe Mncwango, which will be published early next year. The book analyses the results of the questions asked in the 2003 South African Social Attitudes Survey (Sasas).

Rule, research director at the HSRC’s surveys, analysis, modelling and mapping research programme, says that “the question does not ask how people feel towards gay people, only whether they think the practice is wrong or not”. He says the answers reflect attitudes only, and that respondents would not necessarily act on these attitudes.

Support for the death penalty in South Africa is also overwhelming, with 75% strongly agreeing with capital punishment. The death penalty was abolished in South Africa in 1995, but there is huge popular sentiment that it should be reintroduced.

Urban formal areas show the strongest support for the death penalty with 78%, while people in less urbanised areas show the lowest level of support, with just 53% in the Northern Cape and 67% in Limpopo.

But Limpopo and the Eastern Cape showed the highest percentage of opposition to abortion and homosexuality, with 90% of respondents in Limpopo saying that it is always wrong for two adults of the same sex to have sexual relations.

According to the HSRC report, 56% of respondents feel that abortion is “always wrong”, even if there is a strong chance of the baby having a serious birth defect; while 70% feel it is “always wrong”, even if the family cannot afford to have children.

A survey conducted in Britain has revealed that about 60% of British adults approve of abortion if the couple concerned is in agreement — in strong contrast to South Africa.

Rule says: “People in [Limpopo, Mpumalanga, Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal] were more likely than in other provinces to think that these practices are ‘wrong’.

“These provinces have the highest proportions of the population living in ‘tribal’ areas, where attitudes tended to be the most ‘traditional’ on these issues.”

The terms “traditional” and “progressive” were used to label the two extremes of opinion that emerged during the survey.

The survey interviewed about 5 000 respondents nationwide, drawn from the HSRC’s master sample.

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