South Africa’s department of statistics (Stats SA) has released its Governance, Public Safety and Justice survey, which has a good story to tell on a range of topics, although it is one that some South Africans may find surprising, particularly those with a pessimistic outlook.
Their findings include that three-quarters of South Africans are either satisfied or very satisfied with life, that nine out of ten people are proud to be South African and that 86% of South Africans believe their health is good, very good or excellent.
According to the survey, 87% of the population think that freedom of religion is respected in South Africa, while 57% of the population think that people are treated equally by the police and in courts of law.
The survey also found that an estimated 12% of the population in South Africa “experienced one or more disputes or justiciable problems” in the past two years, a figure which the report says is “on the lower side compared to results from other countries.”
A section of the survey that may raise eyebrows is one which looks at the “number and proportion of the population who experienced discrimination based on race”.
However, a section in the newly released Stats SA report appears to come to the same conclusion, albeit with different supporting figures.
According to the survey, which says its comparison is “in terms of the proportion of people in the group that experienced racial discrimination,” 12.2% of white respondents said they’d experienced racial discrimination, compared with 9.7% of so-called coloured South Africans, 6.5% of South Africans of Indian or Asian origin, and 5.8% of black South Africans.
The survey also found that while roughly 59% of the population believe that racial discrimination exists in South Africa and is one of its greatest problems, racial discrimination was experienced directly by only 7% of the population.
The IRR, whose head of media Michael Morris said they only “faithfully recorded the results of the survey”, which was “conducted independently by a credible research firm”, released a report called “Reasons for hope 2019 – Unite the middle”, which included the question “Have you ever personally experienced racism that was directed at you?”
In response, 36% of black respondents said yes, as did 70% of coloureds, 56% of Indians and 52% of whites. The full figures as well as details of the methodology can be found here.
Independent political analyst Aubrey Matshiqi says what one makes of both the Stats SA and IRR stats on racial discrimination “depends on interpretation” but the findings, he added, were “not disinteresting”.
He said white people may be claiming discrimination based on the concept of “reverse racism,” which in itself is a disputed concept, seen as a myth by some.
“Do the respondents all have the same understanding of racism, or are they responding in terms of their own subjective understanding of what constitutes racism?” he asked.
“The survey may support a pre-existing view on the part of the IRR because of how they’ve positioned themselves in terms of their outlook on race,” he continued. “My knee-jerk response would be ‘well they would say that’. I would wonder if the findings show confirmation bias”.
“On the other hand, these new stats from Stats SA may be regarded as being more objective,” he said, but added that he’d want to know more about the “methodologies, sampling, and interpretation” utilised.
“In my view, It’s highly unlikely that racism is something that’s experienced more as a group by white people than black people.”
READ MORE: Crime pays more than honesty in SA
One reason why white people may give this answer is that, historically, they are seen as the perpetrators of racism.
“When people are surveyed they want to appear more sophisticated and moral than they are,” he said, adding that they may not want to “be seen as part of a group of people responsible for racism”.
“Therefore what they report may be a reaction to the perception that they are the perpetrators.”
“At the same time I do need to understand what the finding means. If the majority of white respondents say they experience racism does that translate automatically into another finding that white people experience most of the racism in SA,” he said.
“That’s objectively untrue,” he continued, saying that racism needs to be looked at in its different forms, such as “systemic, economic, and institutional”.
The report is not based on new data but is a “re-engineering” of a former Stats SA survey on the Victims of Crime.
Stats SA say they “recognised the gap between our surveys and emerging demands for data”.
“Since no funding was expected for a new survey, it was decided to re-engineer the Victims of Crime Survey (VOCS) to include themes on governance, social cohesion and access to justice”.
Topics looked at were the Constitution, human rights, discrimination, disputes, access to justice, accountability, institutions, and political participation.
The survey is an attempt to see if various aspects of South African life match up with the goals of the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as well as our own National Development Plan (NDP).
In terms of methodology, Stats SA used the same “sampling frame which has been developed as a general-purpose household survey frame that can be used by all other Stats SA household-based surveys”.
“This master sample is based on information collected during Census 2011,” the survey states.