Why 77% of ordinary South Africans think country is moving in wrong direction

Seventy-seven percent of ordinary South Africans think the country is moving in the wrong direction, and that government and President Jacob Zuma are primarily responsible, a new study shows.

Conducted by Ask Afrika and Infusion Knowledge Hub on behalf of The Centre for Communication and Reputation Management at the University of Pretoria, the study conveys the views of adult South Africans about corruption and state capture. Eighty percent of the sample – which is representative of 37 million adult South Africans – focused on poorer communities. The study also assessed satisfaction with political performance.

Speaking at a workshop called The Nation’s Voice on State Capture and Corruption where the results of the study were released, Ask Afrika’s CEO, Andrea Gevers, said where respondents felt South Africa was going in a negative direction, with corrupt government officials, unemployment and high levels of crime cited as reasons.

Nearly 40% said government was responsible while 29% identified President Jacob Zuma as the accountable party.

Only 4.9% felt that citizens were to blame.

Those individuals who believed that South Africa was moving in the right direction (17%), mentioned improved education and RDP housing as reasons. A small percentage (6%) didn’t know or care about the country’s direction.

The study highlighted high levels of distrust and dissatisfaction with the current government. The majority of respondents believed that their basic needs were not being met as a result of state capture and high levels of corruption, but also showed a culture of blind following and apathy, which allowed leadership to get away with underperformance.

When respondents were asked how important it was to follow the lead of political leaders in their own culture, 11% said it was very important and 30% felt it was important.

These were worrying statistics, as it suggested that a large chunk of citizens would still follow their leaders, even if they had the wrong leader, Gevers said.

President Jacob Zuma fared the worst among leaders in government, with 64% of people rating his efficiency as “very badly”.

With regards to a leadership rating, one would ideally want to see more satisfaction, with at least a third to half of the rating classified as “well” and “very well”. However, leaders were rated poorly in the “very well” category across the board, and mainly single-digit percentages of respondents rated their performance as “very well”.

“That is exceedingly low. It is the lowest we’ve ever seen in a study,” Gevers said.

Most South Africans were aware of the concept of corruption, with 89% saying they have heard the term and 99% indicating it was unacceptable. Half the respondents personally knew someone who was corrupt.

Yet, very few respondents were aware of the phrase “state capture” or understood it, but they were alarmed and terrified when it was explained to them, Infusion’s Shamima Vawda said. They saw it as a loss of sovereignty.

Seventy-seven percent of respondents said they had not heard of “state capture” before, but upon hearing the definition, 68% said it happened in South Africa. Ninety-one percent thought it was unacceptable and said it would change the way people vote.

When asked about the perceived involvement of stakeholders in corruption and state capture, the president and the police were at the top of the list, followed by political parties.

“This tells me that we are ripe for an overhaul,” Gevers said.

Asked what they wanted government to address as soon as possible, respondents said corruption, unemployment and illegal entries into the country.

Sixty-three percent of respondents felt that living conditions had improved after the end of apartheid, 84% classified themselves as proudly South African and 46% chose to be identified as South Africans before any other demographic descriptors such as race, gender, religion or culture.

The study was conducted during the latter part of 2017 in two parts – firstly through ten focus groups in Gauteng, the Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal and later followed up with a computer-aided questionnaire answered by 2 600 adult South Africans.

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