The rise of anxiety in South Africa

The FutureFact survey has been tracking the mood of South Africans since 1998 (see www.futurefact.co.za). Each year it identifies the changes in the mindsets of South Africans and reveals the shifts in the social fabric of the society.

Not only do many South Africans feel excluded, but across the board there is also an insecurity with regard to crime, unemployment, economic sustainability and political leadership.
Protesting voices such as those against the dissolution of the Scorpions and protests on immigration and crime are claimed not to have been heard. Many citizens feel sidelined, despite the recognised improvements in living standards and palpable class mobility.

But what are the current mindsets of South Africans? What distinguishes the various groups of people? Based on a national probability sample of 2 500 adult South Africans (only excluding communities of fewer than 500 people) surveyed from mid- August to mid-September 2008, the following “mindsets” emerged from a statistical factor analysis conducted on behalf of the International Marketing Council (IMC).

The Enthusiasts have been around as a solid group for several years. They have seen a significant move into the middle and upper-middle classes, with major improvements in their economic circumstances compared with their parents. They could also be called the “optimists”, because they have a “glass-is-half-full” view of life in South Africa. This group shows a realistic attitude to the problems of South Africa and are not ignoring them blindly.

The Influentials have also been around for some time and reflect all race groups. They are well educated and fairly affluent, but are unfortunately showing a steep decline in confidence in the country. They are unhappy about the perceived lack of accountability and capacity or skills to implement policy. They are fearful that there will be conflict between the various ethnic groups in South Africa and that the country will go the way of Zimbabwe. They still see that the country has a lot of potential but there will have to be intrinsic change in the political and social milieu to prompt them to a change in spirit.

Solid Citizens are a principled group of people, but with low levels of income and education that do not equip them to rise above the everyday demands of making ends meet. They believe South Africa has better prospects now than prior to 1994 but they are uncertain about the current prospects.

The Conventionals are Mr and Mrs Average, who are more likely to be small-town dwellers. There is a general sense that they are not particularly socially or politically conscious and that they live their lives on a routine level. They can best be described as people who do not have a world or country view. Their lives are contained in their own immediate communities. They are a group who just want to be left alone, who do not actively want to participate in democratic institutions nor wish to mobilise to do their bit for the country.

A new group that has emerged in the latest survey can only be called the Pessimists. They are the opposite of the enthusiasts and tend to have a “glass-is-half-empty” state of mind or perhaps for them the glass is empty. They are not only apathetic, they are also negative in their attitudes and see little chance of things coming right; they are not prepared to do their bit to help. There is an almost active resistance because of their lack of belief in the country and its future. They have serious concerns about the future political leadership of the country and reflect the lowest confidence in key political leaders and institutions of all the mindsets.

They express the strongest levels of fear that there will be violence between the different ethnic groups and that there are black racists in the country. They tend to be above average white or coloured, older (50 plus) and female. Members of this mindset have lost hope that they can make a difference or succeed in this country and their feeling of belonging appears compromised. Nonetheless, this loss of hope appears to be fairly recent, in that they claim to have previously been optimistic and to be losing hope for the first time. Perhaps conditions will change and allow them to reclaim a more hopeful space in the future.

Jos Kuper heads Kuper Research, a consultancy specialising in media, marketing and socio-political analysis

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