JOHANNESBURG — Out of touch. This is how Dr Anthea Jeffrey of the Institute of Race Relations describes current politicians in South Africa. And she’s got the research to prove it. Whether it be issues of race or land, South Africans (actually) are quite a middle-of-the-road and even a pro-capitalist lot. It’s confusing then that our politicians still think that socialism and communism are in vogue. Roll on elections 2019. – Gareth van Zyl
By Dr. Anthea Jeffery*
The ANC and the EFF are ratcheting up their racial rhetoric to pave the way for expropriation without compensation (EWC). The EFF does so more overtly (with Julius Malema’s threat to ‘cut the throat of whiteness’) and the ANC more obliquely (with its emphasis on land dispossession as the ‘original sin’ for which, implicitly, whites have yet to pay).
Similar racial rhetoric was common in 2017 too, as the ANC stepped up its demands for ‘radical economic transformation’ and hinted at the need for an EWC amendment to the Constitution. There was also much racial invective on social media and some notorious instances of raw racism, especially in the Vicki Momberg and coffin cases.
Such utterances and incidents might suggest that South Africa is awash with racism. However, a comprehensive opinion poll commissioned by the IRR and carried out in December 2017 shows a different picture.
A demographically balanced sample of 1 000 respondents across the country, all of whom were interviewed in the languages of their choice, identified the top priorities for the government to address as generating more jobs (chosen by 38% of black respondents), improving education (chosen by 26%) and fighting crime (also chosen by 26%).
By contrast, a mere 4% of black respondents identified ‘fighting racism’ as a top priority for the government. Only 1% of blacks wanted the government to concentrate on ‘speeding up affirmative action’, while the same proportion (1%) wanted it to focus on ‘speeding up land reform’.
In addition, 77% of black respondents said that they had ‘[n]ever personally experienced racism directed at them’. Some 63% of blacks said race relations had improved since 1994, while 62% agreed that ‘all this talk about racism and colonialism is by politicians trying to find excuses for their own failures’.
In the most heartening response of all, 92% of all those interviewed, including 90% of blacks, agreed that ‘the different races need each other for progress and there should be full opportunity for people of all races’.
However, that race relations still remain generally sound is no reason for complacency – and especially not when politicians from the ANC and EFF seem ever more intent on beating the racial drum. Even if this racial rhetoric does not result in widespread EWC, it will still undermine confidence and make it harder to overcome the most important barriers to upward mobility. These barriers include:
- a meagre economic growth rate, which has averaged around 1% of GDP a year over the past four years and has never been brought up to the levels (6% or more) needed to generate millions more jobs;
- an appalling public schooling system which, despite the massive tax revenues allocated to it, leaves 78% of Grade 4 pupils unable to read for meaning in any language and sets them up for failure throughout their school careers;
- poor throughput rates at universities, where only 20% of students – most of them inadequately prepared for the rigours of university study – manage to complete a three-year undergraduate degree within that period;
- stubbornly high unemployment rates, made worse by labour laws that deter job creation and increase entry level wages to the point where the inexperienced and poorly skilled are priced out of the labour market;
- pervasive family breakdown, as a result of which some 70% of black children grow up without the financial support and guidance of both parents;
- a costly and inefficient public service, which battles to deliver essential basic services or to maintain and extend the country’s vital infrastructure;
- a limited and struggling small business sector, which is unable to thrive in an environment of low growth, poor skills, and suffocating red tape; and
- a mistaken reliance on affirmative action measures, which (like similar policies all around the world) generally benefit a relative elite while bypassing the poor.
It is not white racism but rather factors such as these which make it so difficult to expand opportunities and give the disadvantaged a realistic prospect of upward mobility. Poverty thus remains acute among the unemployed, in particular. Politicians and other commentators then use the persistence of poverty, not to embark on necessary socio-economic reforms, but rather to scapegoat whites and inflame racial tensions. They often also take the hurtful views and actions of a small minority of individuals and project them as the pervasive views of entire racial groups. Unchecked conduct of this kind could in time have an increasingly negative impact on race relations, turning warnings of rising racial animosities into self-fulfilling prophecies.
In their reckless pursuit of EWC, the ANC and the EFF also claim that nationalisation must be used to speed up land redistribution because this is what ‘the people’ demand. The IRR’s opinion survey (along with a host of other evidence) shows that this is not so. Urbanisation is already far advanced and steadily proceeding – and what most individuals want are jobs and houses in the towns and cities.
That most South Africans have little interest in radical redistribution has also been confirmed by another recent opinion poll. This survey was commissioned by eNCA and carried out in September 2017 among some 5 000 people, including roughly 2 700 self-declared ANC voters.
These survey results, as analysed by well-known author and journalist RW Johnson, show that 50% of all respondents wanted ‘more pro-business policies’, 11% wanted to retain current policies, and only 19% wanted ‘more radical policies/complete redistribution’.
Writes Johnson: ‘These are striking figures. Only one tenth of the electorate opts for the policy mix as now – an utterly overwhelming sign of dissatisfaction with the status quo…. Secondly, even among African voters there is a heavy 5:2 majority against more radical policies – which are actively desired by less than one African in five.’
If ANC and EFF politicians would only listen to the people – instead of insisting on policies which, in Johnson’s words, ‘lie flatly against the preferences of the electorate as a whole’ – the country could start rebuilding fractured social trust, overcoming the real barriers to upward mobility, and living up to the Constitution’s pledge that ‘South Africa belongs to all who live in it, united in our diversity’.
- Dr. Anthea Jeffery is Head of Policy Research at the Institute of Race Relations.