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South Africans losing faith in public institutions, representatives: study

Pandemic’s stark impact on society also emerges in Reconciliation Barometer

A new study shows many would prefer to have a greater say on political issues and governance as they do not see their representatives as acting in their best interests. File photo.
A new study shows many would prefer to have a greater say on political issues and governance as they do not see their representatives as acting in their best interests. File photo.
Image: Antonio Muchave

The 2021 SA Reconciliation Barometer, a public opinion survey, shows South Africans’ confidence in public institutions and representatives is lower than it was in 2019.

The barometer is conducted regularly by the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation and aims to measure perceptions on a range of issues relevant to social cohesion and reconciliation.

“South Africans generally have low levels of confidence in public institutions and their representatives. Moreover, most respondents would prefer to have a greater say on political issues and governance as they do not see their representatives as acting in their best interests,” the report reads.

On the issue of reconciliation, most South Africans surveyed said they had personally experienced reconciliation since the end of apartheid.

“When asked to evaluate the efficacy of the TRC [Truth and Reconciliation Commission], a larger share of respondents (58%) agree it provided a good foundation for national reconciliation,” the study found.

However, more than 72% of the respondents agreed SA still needs reconciliation.

Just over 51% of respondents said all citizens should bear the responsibility of ensuring reconciliation in the country, including the groups oppressed and not oppressed under apartheid.

“The second most common response indicated nearly one in four South Africans (23%) believes the greatest responsibility for ensuring reconciliation should lie mostly with those who were oppressed under apartheid, while 9% said only those formerly oppressed should be responsible,” reads the report.

Only 16% of respondents believe the responsibility should mostly or exclusively be that of those who were not oppressed under apartheid.

On the impact of Covid-19, nearly half of South Africans surveyed said they felt much closer to their families than they did before the pandemic, with 22% saying they feel somewhat closer to their families.

“These sentiments are similar, yet less emphatic, for respondents’ relationship with their local community (54% closer than before) and South Africans from other race groups (47% closer than before).”

More than half of all respondents indicated they had lost close friends or family members due to Covid-19.

“This finding demonstrates the sheer scale of mortality caused by Covid-19 and of the economic shocks over the past six months.

“In addition to loss of life, nearly half of all respondents were unable to pay their debts, and a similar share of South Africans said they had lost most of their income,” the study found.

“As a result of the financial difficulties experienced by many households, more than a third of respondents reported they had been unable to feed their family at some point over the last six months.”

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