Report reveals a divided country

Cobus Coetzee

Only one-third of South Africans interact across racial lines, while disapproval of inter-racial marriages and integrated schools is on the increase.

These are just some of the findings of the South African Reconciliation Barometer released by the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation (IJR) in Cape Town yesterday.

“We didn’t think that 2011 was a good year for reconciliation, but 2012 was even worse. The question is, how long will we be able to string along like this?” said IJR executive director Fanie du Toit.

The research found nearly half, or 43.5 percent, rarely or never speak to someone of another race. This happened as many people lived in informal settlements and rural areas and did not have formal employment.

Between 2003 and this year the levels of interaction between races have rarely changed, except in 2004 and 2009 when they sharply declined compared to the previous year.

These were both election years.

Research over the past nine years shows there are still 40 percent of South Africans who almost never talk to people of other races, while more than 60 percent of the country’s residents don’t socialise with people of other races.

Altogether 3 565 people were interviewed during April and May this year across all provinces.

The interviews were done face-to-face in six different languages and were representative of the country’s gender, age and racial demographics.

The findings show 27.4 percent of South Africans interact with a person they believe to be of another race always or often, on an ordinary weekday, while a quarter (25.9 percent) talk sometimes.

In 2012 only 17.8 percent of South Africans always or sometimes interact with people of other races in their homes or friends’ houses.

The report notes levels of cross-racial socialisation have changed little during the past three years, while fewer people (expressed as a percentage of the sample) talk to other people of a different race compared to 2011.

“Certainly, latent and overt stereotypes, fear or trepidation about others, and even naked racism have contributed to static levels of interaction and the slow pace at which social bonds are being forged,” the report found.

A large number, or 41.4 percent, also find people of a different race’s “ways and customs” difficult to understand.

A quarter of people feel economic inequality creates the biggest division between race groups, while disease, political parties, race, religion and language also divide the nation.

South Africans who live in affluent households in urban areas are the most likely to socialise across racial lines, while rural dwellers and people living in homogenous townships and informal settlements are the least likely.

Despite the divisions, 61.8 percent believe national unity across historical divides is desirable but levels of agreement are lower among white (49 percent) and coloured (50 percent) youth.

Altogether 38.8 percent say they want to know more about others’ customs and 23.2 percent say they want to interact more with people of other races.

Not everyone approves of racial integration. An increasing number of people compared to last year disapprove of inter-racial marriages.

Altogether 42.7 percent of white young people, between 15 and 34 years, would disapprove the most if a close relative were to marry someone of a different race. This is more than white adults (30 percent).

The research also found that disapproval of school integration has been on the rise since 2010. Two years ago less than 10 percent of people disapproved while this year nearly 15 percent were against it.

Fewer people object to having neighbourhoods in which they live integrated.

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