The presidency, under Jacob Zuma, was the least trusted institution in 2017, while in 2019, under Ramaphosa, levels of public confidence in the presidency doubled, writes Mikhail Moosa
This will be a tough year for South Africa. Our challenges are comparable to those that were faced in the wake of the democratic transition. But one key factor sets our current predicament apart from the issues of 1994. Sentiment. In 1994, South Africans were hopeful and government mobilised this optimism to respond to the challenges of the time. President Cyril Ramaphosa will have to respond to our collective expectations and fears in his upcoming State of the Nation Address (SONA).
What are the issues that South Africans want the president to address in his fourth SONA on Thursday?
To find out what SA thinks about key issues, the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation conducts two nationally representative public opinion surveys: the South African Reconciliation Barometer (SARB) and Afrobarometer. Both surveys have a confidence level of 95 per cent.
The latest results point to four salient issues: persistent unemployment; high inequality; low confidence in institutions; and pernicious corruption.
The 2018 Afrobarometer survey shows that the majority of South Africans believe that unemployment is the most important problem facing the country. South Africa has an exceptionally high unemployment rate, with the rate of joblessness peaking in 2019. Unemployment is highest among black people, women, youth and people in rural areas. Economists have shown that access to stable employment is one of the most important means of poverty alleviation.
In 2015, Stats SA reported that over 55 per cent of people lived on less than R992 a month. In 2018, the president announced the creation of the Presidential Jobs Summit and the Youth Employment Service (YES), which connects companies with unemployed black youth. Last year, the ANC’s manifesto pledged to create 275 000 jobs a year.
Ramaphosa must update the country on the progress of YES, the Presidential Working Committee on the Jobs Summit, and the ANC’s ambitious campaign promise.
Since its inception in 2003, one of the most consistent findings from the SARB survey is that South Africans believe the greatest social division is the gap between the rich and the poor. Inequality is a profound barrier to building a fairer and more inclusive society.
South Africa has stubbornly high levels of inequality. A 2018 report from the World Bank stated that SA is “one of the most unequal countries in the world” and “inequality has increased since 1994”. Post-apartheid inequality, according to Stats SA’s Inequality Trends report, is driven by widening inequalities in earnings and widespread unemployment.
South Africans want the president to introduce measures to reduce high levels of inequality. SONA should set the tone for greater support for unemployed or low-income earners and employment creation to reduce inequality.
South Africans do not have high levels of confidence in public institutions. The only institution trusted by a majority of respondents is the SABC. Recently, there’s been an improvement in public opinion.
The presidency, under Jacob Zuma, was the least trusted institution in 2017, while in 2019, under Ramaphosa, levels of public confidence in the presidency doubled. Public confidence in the ANC also grew from 33 percent to 47 percent. Despite this surge in confidence, most respondents did not have “quite a lot” or “a great deal” of trust in the presidency, Parliament, the legal system or even the SAPS.
Ramaphosa should use the growth in confidence to rebuild state institutions, which are critical for the functioning of our democracy and providing basic services. Many South Africans hold negative perceptions because they believe institutions are blighted by corruption.
“State capture” has dominated the headlines over the past few years, but how does corruption affect most South Africans? The social impact of corruption is borne out in two survey findings.
First, the 2019 SARB shows that close to 85 percent of South Africans believe corruption affects ordinary people more than politicians. Second, according to 2018 Afrobarometer data, close to half of all respondents said “most” or “all” police officers were involved in corruption.
Corruption is more than an issue of dysfunctional governance; it is an impediment to social cohesion and the realisation of South Africans’ rights. While the Zondo commission is necessary to highlight high-level corruption, greater attention must be directed to corruption at a local-level, where citizens rely on officials for essential services.
The president needs a plan for eliminating corruption at all levels of the state, from the offices of Cabinet ministers down to local councillors.
Despite dissatisfaction with governance and the economy, there are hopeful findings to build on. Most South Africans are proud of their country and believe it is possible to create a united nation. South Africans are also remarkably confident in their capacity to achieve their personal goals, but we need job opportunities, inclusive growth and good governance to succeed.
– Mikhail Moosa is the Project Leader for the SA Reconciliation Barometer at the Institute for Justice Reconciliation
First published on New24