While 71 percent of respondents said a united South Africa was desirable, only 64.6 percent agreed it was viewed as possible, the survey found. File photo: Carlo Allegri

Cape Town - Two out of three South Africans do not trust one another across racial lines, a new survey by a Cape Town-based NGO has found.

The Institute for Justice and Reconciliation (IJR) found that South Africans generally only seemed to mix in spaces which have to be shared by law, such as workplaces, shops, schools and colleges.

The continuing poverty of those disadvantaged under apartheid was widely seen by more than 61 percent of respondents as preventing true reconciliation – although almost a third of white people (31.2 percent) disagreed with this view, compared with 11.3 percent of black people, 8.4 percent of Indians and 20.3 percent of coloured South Africans.

The findings of the South African Reconciliation Barometer survey, which were released on Tuesday, sketch how race, class and income inequalities affect social relations.

It identified economic inequality as the leading source for social divisions (30.3 percent), followed by race (23.5 percent) and political parties (20.9 percent).

IJR policy and analysis head Jan Hofmeyr said race recently moved up to second place, after economic inequality, as a source for social division: “The question of race increased in prominence over the past two years as a factor of divisiveness.”

The barometer’s findings, based on 2 219 interviews with a representative sample of the population, showed 67.3 percent did not trust, or had very little trust in, their fellow South Africans –although that did not mean they did not want to reach out to others in increased interactions.

A total of 58.5 percent said they wanted more interaction at social gatherings, 69.3 percent at places of work or study and 61.4 percent at home.

Black South Africans had the highest levels of distrust (68.9 percent) and were also most likely to agree that they experienced racism most of the time, particularly if aged between 35 to 44.

Barriers to greater interaction include the continuing apartheid spatial infrastructure, including town planning, transport services and public amenities. However, economic mobility was an important determinant in levels of interaction: the more South Africans earned, the more likely they were to interact with South Africans from various racial groups.

“Increased interaction does not always equate to increased reconciliation. Very often it has an initial opposite effect.

“At least interaction creates the space for conversations about reconciliation and broader issues around race,” said Hofmeyr.

“Many South Africans interact in the legislated spaces – shops, study, work – but retreat at the end of the day (into their own social circles).”

Most South Africans (61.4 percent) believe race relations have either stayed the same or deteriorated since the transition from apartheid: 67 percent of whites believed this compared with 59.8 percent of blacks and 63.1 percent of Indians and coloureds. Broken down into provinces, the belief that race relations have stayed the same or worsened since 1994 was most prevalent in the Eastern Cape (78.3 percent), followed by the Free State and Northern Cape (66.8 percent), and the Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal (65.6 percent). The North West was the most optimistic with only 42.8 percent holding this view, and Gauteng (54.7 percent).

The survey found that while there was acknowledgement of progress made, 69.7 percent believed South Africans still needed reconciliation. When asked about the meaning of reconciliation, creating a more equal society/redressing injustice emerged as the third most popular meaning – after forgiveness and reducing violence.

And while 71 percent of respondents said a united South Africa was desirable, only 64.6 percent agreed it was viewed as possible, the survey found.

The barometer has run since 2003 as part of a broader social research, although this year it was run as a standalone project.

Political Bureau