News agency, Cape Town, South Africa
Saturday February 24th 2018

Study shows SA race relations improving despite ET and Juju

Fadela Slamdien

While South Africa appear to be deeply divided over the murder of Eugene Terre’Blanche and the outbursts of controversial ANC Youth League president Julius Malema, new research has found that as a nation the country is becoming more unified.

The findings are contained in the annual Futurefact research which was conducted by nationwide, face-to-face interviews in October to December 2009 with 2500 adults aged 15 or older, across all race and socio-economic groupings but excluding deep rural areas.

The annual futurefact research, which was first conducted in 1998, aims at identifying the pyscho-social, political and economic trends shaping South Africa and how they are likely to play out in the future. One of the key findings is that there is more interaction across all race groups, and that South Africans are more comfortable and tolerant with each other when compared to 1998, when Futurefact first surveyed peoples’ attitudes, values and beliefs.

This time around they found that the country, once deeply divided by apartheid, has come a long way on the road to integration, with 53 percent of South Africans having friends from other race groups.

Other key findings were that:

* Over half – 54 percent – of people“ identify themselves first and foremost as being South Africans, up from 46 percent in 2008. A further 30% described themselves as African. Only 15 percent of South Africans identified themselves by a racial, language, cultural, ethnic or religious affiliations, the survey found.

* South Africans across all race groups are becoming more tolerant of each other. 64 percent of people said the statement “I believe that all people are my brothers and sisters and equals, regardless of their race, religion and political beliefs” applied strongly to them. This was a 9 percent increase from 2008.

* Fifty eight percent of South Africans are “very committed”, ‘ to the country, 21 percent are “neutral” and 21 percent are “very uncommitted.

* South Africans are becoming more comfortable with people of other races. It appears that levels of comfort are based on class and not on race, as people of the same socio-economic level were more likely to feel comfortable with each other, regardless of race;

* A majority of South Africans believe that government should be held accountable by the people.

Explaining why the research findings on racial tolerance could appear to be in contradiction to what has been happening on the ground, researcher Lauren Shapiro believes that the polarisation issue is being blown out of proportion and that there is only a small minority at either end of the scale which is racialised.

“What is happening is a typical reaction by South Africans to a racial or political incident, which whips up hysteria and then blows over,” she said.

And this reaction, far from showing people up as being divided, reveals the opposite, Lauren claimed.

“When something happens in this country, everyone feels it. But this shows that everyone is in tune…we do get anxious when things like this happen.”

Larry Palk, a Cape Town-based industrial psychologist and labour expert, said that the recent race rows are “exaggerated” and have been hyped up by the media.

“When people see this on television, especially reports on Julius Malema, they get hot under the collar and (this is) from all sides,” he said.

“When Eugene Terre’Blanche died, people thought there was going to be a bloodbath, but it did not happen” – as was also the case with the assassination of Chris Hani in 1993, which set off fears of a race war on the eve of the 1994 elections.

Dianne Preddy, a Johannesburg-based clinical psychologist, said she did not believe that attitudes had changed, but rather that “…different people are being heard. At present it is extremists, politicians and `sheep`. “In my experience, there is definitely improvement in terms of this understanding and reduced racial tension and bias in general,” she said.

However, Frans Cronje, deputy CEO of the South African Institute of Race Relations, said he believed “deep seated” problems remained.

“Underlying most of the rainbow nation is this social and economic inequality…But you cannot build a stable society in an environment of inequality… … there are a large number of poor, and badly educated South Africans who are very, very angry. This will not blow over, until you fix the problems,” said Cronje.

The full report is available at www.futurefact.co.za

Tags: Eugene Terre'Blanche, Futurefact, Julius Malema, racial tensions

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