Townships still home to many, but emigration beckons

More than half of the black middle class still live in townships, the majority of them by choice, the Future Fact research project said on Thursday.

“More and more, facilities are available and people don’t have to leave the townships to do their shopping and get their entertainment,” researcher Lauren Shapiro told a conference in Johannesburg.

In a survey conducted in the second half of 2007 among 2 500 adults, about 69% of black respondents said they lived in townships by choice.

“People miss the community spirit and warmth that thrives in the townships but is lacking in the suburbs,” said Shapiro.

Fifty-two percent of black middle-class respondents lived in townships and 32% in formerly white suburbs. Among the black upper middle class, 37% still stayed in townships.

“Townships are becoming suburbs with all the same conveniences,” said Shapiro. “In the next decade there will no longer be a clear distinction between suburbs and townships.”

Shapiro said that 77% of black respondents said they were happier living in townships.

“While the suburbs may have the same advantages and may be more convenient, they lack the emotional connection ...
The conviviality and vibe of the townships cannot be replaced.”

She said township properties are becoming great investments and residents are putting money into their houses and gardens. About 55% of respondents said they had grass in their gardens, 43% had trees and 32% had flowers. “Properties in townships are becoming valuable and viable.”

Out of the total population of 18,7-million adults in South Africa, 38% live in townships and 49% in suburbs. The remaining adults live in informal settlements (7%), hostels (2%) and central business districts (5%). Out of the 49% living in suburbs, 38% are white, 36% black, 18% coloured and 8% Indian.

Meanwhile, the number of black and coloured South Africans seriously considering emigration has shot up by 20% and 30% respectively since 2000.

“We are now seeing a tipping point for an exodus, but this time across the board in terms of race,” Future Fact researcher Debbie Milne told the conference. “It is motivated more by the sense of cynicism than real violent political turmoil.”

About 39% of South Africans said they were seriously considering leaving the country in 2007, as opposed to 18% in 2000.

The increase was up across all races. Only 22% of white people, 18% of black people, 12% of coloured people and 26% of Indians said they were considering emigration in 2000. But in 2007, sentiments had changed with 41% of whites, 38% of blacks, 42% of coloureds and 30% of Indians thinking of leaving the country.

“It does show the sense of dissatisfaction,” said Milne. “South Africa as a society has a number of unhappy people who feel helpless and hopeless about their future. Many social ills contribute to an exodus mentality among our citizens.”

The survey also showed that more than two-thirds of South Africans believed in 2006 that most problems in the country were caused by illegal immigrants. About 67% of South Africans believed this in 2006, as opposed to 47% in 2002.

Depression levels were high among all South Africans, but highest among people in the lowest-income groups. Sixty-five percent of people in the lowest-income group said they often felt depressed, while about 45% of middle-class South Africans and 33% of upper-class people said the same.

High crime rates were one of the main reasons for the pessimism. The research found that 63% of people believed they had a right to take the law into their hands if the police failed to deal with a crime.

Another 60% said they would rather call a neighbour or a private security company instead of the police during a house robbery.

However, Milne said South Africans were still “clearly seeking out commonality”.

She said 53% of respondents said they consider themselves as South Africans first, before identifying themselves by race or language. Also, 78% of white South Africans said they believe one should learn a black language.—Sapa

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