Mandela's government faces rampant pessimism in S. Africa Racial divisions as extensive as ever, opinion survey finds


JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- President Nelson Mandela is failing to create a nonracial "rainbow nation" here, according to a new poll that makes depressing reading for the country's black majority government.

The poll, conducted by the respected Markinor organization, found society more split along racial lines than in the past, and with pessimism growing among all parts of the population -- blacks, whites and people of mixed race -- about the performance of the 3-year-old government. But pessimism among whites is almost four times as high as among blacks.

Those negative feelings are blamed on out-of-control violent crime, corruption in local government and the police, and the government's failure to create jobs.

"Until there is clear evidence of [action] on these three things, I think pessimism on all sides will continue to grow," said Tom Lodge, professor of political studies at the University of Witwatersrand.

Crime and jobs

The government has started to crack down on crime by appointing a leading businessman to take control of the police, hiring more officers, tightening bail restrictions and hiring more prosecutors. But there is still widespread fear created by daily murders, rapes, burglaries and carjackings, particularly in the white suburbs of Johannesburg.

"More and more of the crimes that were being experienced largely in the black South African communities are now being experienced in white areas," said Shaun MacKay of the South African Institute of Race Relations.

Jobs have become another major problem, with blacks complaining of the lack of job creation by the government and whites fearing they will lose their positions to the official affirmative-action program.

The results of Markinor's survey of 3,474 people were published in the current edition of the weekly Financial Mail.

Markinor reported that support for Mandela -- a figure of immense international stature -- is starting to wane. That change, too, follows racial lines. Blacks, who gave him an 8.7 rating on a scale of 10 a year ago, now accord him 8.3. His standing among whites has dropped to 5.3 from 5.6; among people of mixed race, to 7.2 from 7.4

Mandela is expected to step down as president of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) in December, but he will remain president of the nation until the 1999 general election. His heir-apparent to both positions is his deputy, Thabo Mbeki, who may find it even harder than Mandela to forge a national consensus.

"One reason is that [Mbeki] seems to place greater emphasis on transformation than on reconciliation -- on addressing black grievances rather than assuaging white anxieties," said the Financial Mail.

The widest split between blacks and whites is over support for the ANC, which draws nearly 80 percent of black votes but only 3 percent of votes by whites.

Perhaps most worrisome for the government is the growth of pessimism throughout society, with almost half of the white families surveyed considering themselves worse off under Mandela and a fifth of black families feeling ill-served by a government committed to improving their historically disadvantaged situation.

Political dilemma

"If the government is really committed and effective in promoting social reform through re-distribution and other measures, it's going to promote white anxiety," said Lodge at the University of Witwatersrand. "On the other hand, if it fails to do those things while talking about it, or if its efforts to promote social reform are accompanied by political scandal and corruption, it will lose white support and black support too."

MacKay, of the South African Institute of Race Relations, said: "There is still a lot of work to be done in the way of creating one, common South African nation." "Three years after the elections, one can't expect all of those decades of apartheid to be suddenly swept away." MacKay said. "That is a problem we are going to have to deal with in time. It is something that would have to start in our homes, our value systems, our school system. It will have to seep through society."

Pub Date: 8/15/97

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