In a study conducted on public opinion on key issues in three African nations, the Pew Research Centre found that black people are the most optimistic about South Africa’s future.
In the study, titled Widespread discontent with economy, corruption in key African nations, the research centre focused on concerns raised by citizens in South Africa, Nigeria and Kenya.
Division lines within each nation were factored into the public opinion many gave. In South Africa, divisions along race lines still remain significant, while public opinion in Nigeria is mainly ingrained along religious fractures.
In Kenya, ethnic divisions were prominent.
The economy and corruption were key issues that worried citizens from all three countries. In all three nations, however, citizens expressed optimism about the future.
In South Africa, this was most evident in the response from black people. Despite black people suffering the most from economic inequality in the country, 73% of black respondents said that education will improve in South Africa by the time children become adults, while 47% and 68% believed that healthcare and poverty would be better in the same period. Only 36% of black people agreed government corruption would be better, but this is in comparison to 22% of white people and 24% of coloured people.
When it came to gender equality, however, coloured people showed the most optimism with 65% agreeing that gender equality would improve in the future. On the same issue, 64% of white people agreed, but black people showed the least optimism with 56% agreeing.
The answers may be linked to a finding in the study which indicates that black people are most likely to take political action, whether it’s by engaging in political debates online, attending events or speeches or by participating in a volunteer organisation or organised protest.
The only time black people are not likely to be more politically active is when it comes to voting, the study said. Around 74% of black South Africans said they had voted, in comparison to 85% of white and coloured people who said the same.
Dissatisfaction with the present
In 2014, the Pew Research Centre said that 47% of South Africans were satisfied with the country’s direction while 49% were dissatisfied. In 2016, the gap has changed dramatically: 74% of South Africans are unhappy with the direction in which the country is going, while 24% are satisfied. White people, the study shows, are the most dissatisifed, despite the majority of the country’s wealth being distributed among them.
The report attributes much of the dissatisfaction with the current economic climate in the country to more than half of South Africans believing that their personal finances are in a bad state.
White people are most likely to encourage young people to leave South Africa instead of remain in the country. The report indicates that political opinion reflects the divisions along race lines.
“Among those who identify with the ANC – 96% of whom are black – an 85% majority say that a young person should stay in South Africa for a good life. This is in contrast to just 60% of Democratic Alliance (DA) identifiers – a much more racially diverse group comprised of 35% whites, 24% blacks and 35% mixed-race people,” the study states.
Education top priority
Despite the differences in opinion, two-thirds of South Africans agree that developing education should be a top priority for the country. Around 36% of people say that education should be the central focus, while government effectiveness was second to education, with 22% of people saying it should be made a top priority.
“A plurality of South Africans want education to be the top priority for their country and a majority is optimistic that the education system will improve in the future. Similarly, most say that healthcare and gender equality will also be better by the time today’s children grow up,” the research states.
The study notes that the significance placed on education has been influenced by the #FeesMustFall student protests. Although public opinion on the protests remains divided, the research says that the high-profile nature of the protests has demonstrated how important education is for many in the country.
Despite the negative mood the country displays at the current moment, one of the key findings of the report is that South Africa, like its neighbours in Kenya and Nigeria, are feeling that a better future is possible.
“South Africans are more dissatisfied with the way things are going in their country than they were at any time the question was asked in the past eight years,” the report states. Despite their negative views of the current economic situation, South Africans are broadly optimistic about the future.”