Who South Africans trust the most

 ·25 Mar 2024

The Edelman Trust Barometer for 2024 shows that South Africans don’t trust the government on its own – but change their tune if private businesses get involved and partner with the state to resolve issues.

The barometer assesses the influence of trust across society – looking at levels of trust for government, media, business, and NGOs –

According to Edelman, trust is the most valuable “currency” an organisation can have, as it gives a “license to operate, lead and succeed”.

“Trust is the foundation that allows an organisation to take responsible risk, and, if it makes mistakes, to rebound from them,” the group said.

However, the 2024 barometer, which gauged responses from 32,000 people in 28 countries (a minimum of 1,150 per country), found that trust in global authorities is declining – and that even science is under pressure from the spread of misinformation and perceptions of “political influence”.

In South Africa, the government has the lowest trust rating across the different categories, with only 29% of respondents showing any signs of trust in the state.

Employers have the highest rating, at 79%, followed by businesses at 62%.

South Africans are generally distrustful, with an overall rating of 49%, just below the neutral index score of 50%.

Along with lacking trust in the state, South Africans are also distrustful of the media (43%), although this is in line with a global trend of declining trust in the media, depending on the sources of information.

For instance, globally, there is a general distrust of social media as a source of information (44%), while traditional media is still generally trusted (62%).

However, people are increasingly taking information sourcing into their own hands, with search engines now the most trusted source of information (68%).

Trust in South Africa

SectorTrust score
Business-Government Partnership61%
Overall Trust49%

What is notable about South Africa’s trust scores is that even though the government ranks at the bottom of the local index, the trust levels improve significantly when businesses partner with the state to take action.

According to Edelman, the demand for business-government partnerships to tackle innovation has surged over the last decade. In South Africa is has jumped 26 percentage points, one of the biggest leaps measured.

CEO of Business Leadership South Africa, Busi Mavuso, said this finding is quite striking, given the context in South Africa, and shows that the direction the government has taken in partnering with business to deal with multiple crises in the country is the right one.

“The growth in public confidence in partnership between business and government reflects the successes we’ve had from Covid onwards in delivering positive change for the public by working together. The evidence is clear to see that when business and government combine their strengths, the public benefits,” Mavuso said.

“At a more granular level it was interesting that South African respondents have high trust in renewable energy innovation, but low trust in the energy sector overall, perhaps reflecting views of Eskom relative to new renewables production being created by the private sector,” she noted.

“The Renewable Energy Independent Power Producers Programme is one of the most successful examples of government and business working together in the last 15 years. More recently, thanks to changes in regulation, business has rapidly committed to major additional investments in renewable energy production.

“The potential for this kind of cooperation is clear when it comes to developing infrastructure,” she said.

The BLSA CEO noted that trust levels in South Africa have taken a hit largely because of the state’s failure to address corruption and hold those responsible to account – this includes the private sector, with the events of last week involving former Steinhoff lead Markus Jooste framing one of the biggest corruption scandals in the country’s history.

However, with authorities now moving on, even those in the political sphere, this should go some way in restoring some of that trust, Mavuso said.

Read: South Africa kisses thousands of doctors, professionals and businesses goodbye

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