26 June 2006
A major new report released by the Presidency paints a picture of dynamic change in South African society, with rapid social mobility and large improvements in both living conditions and race relations. But the report stresses that economic divisions within the country remain set along the racial fault-lines created by apartheid.
Released on Friday, A Nation in the Making: A Discussion Document on Macro Social Trends in South Africa is a continuation of work done on the government’s Ten Year Review, bringing together surveys, census data and studies by a number of independent institutions.
The 109-page report uses a wide range of sources to present the realities of the country in a clear and unbiased fashion, focusing on facts and figures – without spin. Its writers say in the introduction: “The document avoids the temptation to allow a priori prejudices and beliefs to sully an objective appraisal of social dynamics, with the hope – and the conviction – that the facts will speak for themselves.”
United consciousness, diverse conditions
Joel Netshitenzhe, head of the Presidency’s Policy Coordination and Advisory Services, highlighted the remarkable unity the report revealed among South Africans, despite their economic divisions.
“People feel that race relations are improving,” he said. “Material conditions will tell you about growing inequality. That is the reality we’re facing.
“There is unity in consciousness, whereas there is diversity in conditions.”
Netshitenzhe said that although material inequality persists, “intangibles” such as a state of democracy, a growing sense of nationhood and the act of voting could well be contributing to increasingly positive perceptions.
While most assessments of the country’s progress focus on economic indicators such as gross domestic product growth, A Nation in the Making seeks to bring out social indicators that would help the government assess its social progress.
It looks at trends in South Africans’ material conditions have changed over the past decade; class mobility in terms of class, race, gender and age; trends in households and families, community organisation and economic relations; and the way in which South Africans define themselves in terms of identity and value systems.
Nationhood and race relations
One study in the report suggests a growing sense of nationhood among the country’s diverse communities, with 53% of those surveyed defining themselves as “South African”, 18% as “African”, 14% according to their home language and only 4% in terms of race.
Another study indicates that 57% of South Africans believe race relations have improved, although this was concentrated in the country’s poorest provinces. North West and Limpopo have the highest number of people who see an improvement, and Gauteng and Western Cape the least.
Netshitenzhe said a possible reason for this discrepancy was that poorer provinces had developed from a lower base, with less interaction between races, while the high population density and greater degree of interracial interaction in wealthier provinces resulted in a more negative perception.
Living conditions and education
Differences in living conditions between black and white South Africans are illustrated by a Labour Force Survey finding cited in the report. This reveals that while 50% of blacks live in households with four or more people, 73% of black people’s dwellings have four rooms or less. On the other hand, only 30% of whites live in households with four or more people, but 80% of their dwellings have four rooms or more.
Netshitenzhe said another key finding was the “centrality of education in social mobility”, in which “the fault-lines of the past still remain”.
The 2001 census found that 22% of Africans had no schooling, compared to 8.3% of coloureds, 5.3% of Indians and 1.4% whites.
The coloured population had the lowest proportion of university graduates, at 4.9%, followed by Africans at 5.2%. Whites topped the higher education stakes, with 29.8% of them having attended university, followed by Indians with 14.9%.
The report suggests a strong link between education and entrepreneurship, which is lowest in rural areas and among Africans.
Indians are the most entrepreneurial group, with 10.3% running their own businesses, followed by 10.1% of whites and 4.6% of Africans. Netshitenzhe said the higher and individual’s level of education, the more likely they were to start and sustain their own business.
But the report does suggest that despite imbalances in education, South Africa’s black population has made enormous socioeconomic progress since 1994.
The black middle class
The emerging black middle class is shown to be a statistical reality, with research in 2004 by the South African Advertising Research Foundation showing a “rapid rise in the percentage of blacks in the slightly higher echelons of the middle strata (average household income of R4075 per month and above).”
A 2004 study by the South African Institute of Race Relations further suggests: “Black South Africans are the future engine/stimulus of the growth of the economy.”
Netshitenzhe again emphasised the critical role of education in helping improve standards of living. He said there was a correlation between education and income, access to opportunities for advancement and the likelihood of rural women to venture into urban areas for work.
“The data overall points to a society in dynamic change, both materially and spiritually,” A Nation in the Making concludes.
“It is subject to debate whether some of the volatility, for instance in social mobility, is a reflection merely of immediate corrections to the history of discrimination … or a sustained trend of increased access.
“Overall, the chain of inherited social attributes … still manifests itself, though decreasingly, in terms of racial fault-lines.
“With regard to a number of attributes, the younger generation seems to evince practices, attitudes and an identity that is strongly integrative.”
- Download A Nation in the Making in PDF format from the SA Government Information website.
SouthAfrica.info reporter and BuaNews