What South Africans really think about racism and affirmative action

 ·29 Feb 2016
BEE Affirmative Action

A new report by the Institute of Race Relations (IRR) reveals the opinions of South Africans of all races when it comes to issues of racism and affirmative action.

In 2015, IRR commissioned a national opinion survey of public attitudes to race, empowerment, and other policy issues entitled Race: What South Africans really think.

The survey canvassed the views of a balanced sample of 2,245 people from all nine provinces.

It covered both rural and urban areas and all socio-economic strata. Of the respondents, 78.3% were black, 9% were coloured, 2.8% were Indian, and 9.9% were white.

Have race relations improved?

Asked whether race relations had improved since 1994, majority of respondents (54%) said they believed so, while 22.2% said that relations have remained the same.

One in five South Africans (20.4%) said that race relations have worsened.

Since 1994 race relations in SA have: Total Black Coloured Asian White
Improved 54% 59.7% 34.1% 34% 33.5%
Stayed the same 22.2% 22.9% 21.1% 18.6% 18.8%
Become worse 20.4% 14.6% 40.5% 45.2% 40.6%
Don’t know 3.4% 2.9% 4.4% 2.2% 7.1%

How do South Africans want job appointments to be made?

The IRR questioned whether racial targets should be used in appointing people to jobs.

“The charge is sometimes made that black people want to rely on racial targets and lack sufficient regard for merit. Conversely, the charge is sometimes levelled that white people have no appreciation of the need for empowerment measures to help redress apartheid wrongs,” it said.

When asked should the best person be given the job, regardless of race, an overwhelming majority of 87.1% of people agreed that merit should be the dominant factor in job appointments.

Since 1994 race relations in SA have: Total Black Coloured Asian White
Agree 87.1% 84.7% 95.3% 96.5% 95.9%
Disagree 12.8% 15.1% 4.7% 3.5% 3.8%

Only a fraction of respondents believe that ‘only black people should be appointed to jobs for a very long time ahead’.

The overwhelming majority said that appointments should be based on merit, but there should also be special training for previously disadvantaged people.

Who should be appointed to jobs in South Africa? Total Black Coloured Asian White
Only black people, for a very long time ahead 4.7% 5.5% 2.1% 0% 1.9%
Only black people, until those employed are demographically representative 5.8% 7.1% 1% 0.8% 1.6%
Appointments should be made on merit, but with special training for the previously disadvantaged 70% 71.2% 66.8% 84.2% 59.2%
All appointments should be based on merit alone, without any special training 19.4% 16.1% 30.2% 15% 37%

How do people experience racism?

The IRR asked whether South Africans experienced racism in their daily lives and, if so, in what way they encountered it.

As many as 78.5% of respondents said that they experienced no racism. The proportions of blacks (79.4%) and whites (75.3%) who gave this answer were roughly the same. 

The stand-out group was the Indian one, where more than half of respondents (55.7%) said they experienced racism in their daily lives.

How do you notice racism Total Black Coloured Asian White
Experienced no racism 78.5% 79.4% 81.2% 55.7% 75.3%
Attitude towards people of different races 13.6% 13.1% 10.9% 18% 18.2%
Job discrimination 4.1% 4.1% 2.4% 17.3% 2.2%
Other 3.8% 3.4% 5.5% 9% 4.3%

More on race relations in SA

The DA wants to change BEE laws – here’s how

‘Racism’ is all the ANC has left: Zille

‘Reverse racism’ doesn’t exist: Human Rights Commission

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