/ 5 December 2008

South Africans ‘not optimistic about the future’

South Africans are not optimistic about the future, according to this year’s South African Reconciliation barometer by the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation (IJR).

In the eighth round of the survey, released on December 4, the survey sought to discover the attitudes of South Africans towards the country’s changing socio-political and economic climate.

‘Poverty and inequality are two defining features of life in post-apartheid South Africa,” read the report, based on research conducted in April and May this year. The estimated number of citizens living on social grants is 12-million.

The survey’s methodology is based on the measurement of six main reconciliation hypotheses, among them security, political culture, dialogue and race. The project recognised that these components of reconciliation did not always carry equal weight and that the emphasis may shift depending on circumstances.

This year’s survey was conducted during the height of the xenophobic attacks in May. It was carried out in both metropolitan and non-metropolitan areas, with a representative sample of 3 500 adults.

The report says in the past 15 years, South Africa had been influential globally in the theme of ‘historic moral triumph and reconciliation”, yet the wave of xenophobic violence that swept the country posed questions about the country’s post-apartheid identity.

The report made a close connection between the xenophobic violence and international economic instability. ‘While this conflict has manifested along an existing fault line of prejudice against African migrants, its roots were essentially located in the same economic vulnerability that has been experienced by poor communities around the world,” the report says.

The report said that while those living in communities where xenophobia occurred distanced themselves from it by becoming part of communal efforts to reign in the violence, sporadic hostility towards foreigners were still being carried out.

Economic decline seemed to be the core cause of paranoia among South Africans and there is a significant increase in scepticism in terms of personal economic prospects. In 2007, 44% of South Africans believed that their economic situation would improve in the next two years and this year that percentage dropped by 18%, with only 26% being optimistic about their economic stability in the future.’

Taking into account that this survey was conducted prior to the full eruption of the global financial crisis on the world’s stock market, we are most likely to see further decrease in optimism,” said the report.

The report also reported that there was a 16% decline of black South Africans who believed that the country would improve in safety in the next two years while the general South African populace lost only 7% hope in the safety of the country.

“The results of the survey show that there was a level of volatility brought on by the deterioration of material circumstances. People felt economically insecure, unsafe and less confident about the future.’

“Such strain tends to expose key social fault lines, and when it erupts in violent demonstration of discontent it tests the robustness of the system of governance.”

The IJR is an NGO established to encourage reconciliation through research, analysis and selective intervention in Africa. It seeks to understand the causes of conflict and promote understanding in the resolution of conflict through such surveys.