SARB Report 2004 – 2nd Round
With the third democratic elections marking the end of the first decade of post-apartheid South Africa, the question of how the country is doing is frequently asked.
This ten-year milestone has given rise to a plethora of “10 Years of Democracy” assessments. The government has undertaken its own “Ten Year Review” of progress in implementing and delivering on its programmes. Analysts are engaging in retrospective reviews of the nation’s democratic consolidation process and the economy’s path towards sustainable growth, transformation, stability and greater equity.
Amidst this wealth of research, a gap has become evident. There is a need to determine what progress has been made in reconciliation since 1994? Has South Africa developed an enduring human right’s culture? Is sufficient dialogue transpiring? Are South Africans still imprisoned by their past? What are the essential obstacles and opportunities for reconciliation? Are South Africans learning to live together?
These questions of people’s perceptions and mindsets are crucial. A 1996 Editorial in the Irish News proclaimed: “In this country perceptions and realities have the same potency.” This is a human reality in most countries. It is often not the actual circumstances, but perceptions of these circumstances that lead to wars, to reconciliation, to revolutions or conflict resolution. People interpret reality differently. They perceive differences in the severity, causes and consequences of problems, be they social, political, economic or otherwise.
It is therefore critical not only to measure actual circumstances that have a bearing on reconciliation (be it the state of the economy, the form of the political system or election outcomes), but also to examine and monitor people’s perceptions of their circumstances. Speaking about the factors that can affect the reconciliation process, Bloomfield argues that “this does not only relate to what happened in the past (the history); equally important are people’s perceptions of what happened in the past (the mythology)”.
Yet these kinds of questions, frequently asked by South Africans and those concerned about South Africa, rarely elicit concise, informed and accurate answers. A number of reviews have attempted to provide some useful insight. Most, however, take the form of anecdotal analyses based on the analysts’ observations of small groups of people’s behaviour, views, attitudes and values.
To date, little attempt has been made to empirically quantify such developments for the nation as a whole. The SA Reconciliation Barometer examines how South Africans at all levels of society react towards one another and the changing political and economic landscape. The Barometer monitors the social mood of the nation as it evaluates the intensifying impact of realities such as poverty, HIV/Aids and unemployment on South Africa’s fragile democracy.
Any monitoring of a process requires time-series data that can show short-term fluctuations and long-term changes. The SA Reconciliation Barometer is by necessity a longitudinal study. This report, which gives an account of the second round of the bi-annual national survey, describes the first suggestions of possible trends in the reconciliation process.