Mbeki: What’s happening to us?

South Africans believe race relations are at their lowest point in 13 years, a recently released government study has shown.

According to the Development Indicators Report released by Minister in the Presidency Collins Chabane, “public perceptions about race relations” reached a record low in 2012, with an average of only 39% of the population saying race relations are improving.

“This could be signalling an urgent need for sustainable nation-building initiatives aimed at improving social cohesion in the country,” says the report.

The survey follows a pronouncement by former president Thabo Mbeki that “tribalism” was on the rise in South Africa.

“I am told that you now find stickers on cars that say ‘100% Venda’. Other stickers say ‘110% Tswana’.

I say to myself, but what is happening?” Mbeki said at the launch of a history book series at Unisa in April.

“Did we in fact defeat the tribalism that the apartheid system sought to encourage? I don’t think that we did,” he said.

The development indicators also show that South African confidence levels for a happy future for all races started decreasing in 2006 and dropped dramatically at the end of 2007.

At the end of last year, it was at an all-time low.

“The decline in happiness coincides with the onset of the global financial and economic crisis,” the report said.

The development indicators reflect the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation’s SA Reconciliation Barometer for 2012, which shows that there has been an increase over the past eight years in the number of people who associate on the basis of race and ethnicity.

At least 56% of people said they never socialised across racial lines.

David Everatt, head of the Gauteng City-Region Observatory, which has researched the state of nonracialism with the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation, said people had conflicting attitudes towards race.

“We have focused on bricks and mortar (like building houses), and have not provided leadership on social cohesion. It is a mess, but it easier to manage because it can be changed. It is different from 30 years ago when we were polarised.”

But Everatt said we should be worried about the rise of “ethnic identity”.

It is dangerous because of what has happened in countries such as Kenya and Zimbabwe.

A hawker peddling car stickers proclaiming “100% Venda” and “110% Ndebele” around Pretoria said he sold about four or five a day.


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