So far apart, so close together

2017-05-21 05:46

Johannesburg - He is a white man. She is a black woman.

Fabio Pinheiro (19) and Lwazilwaphesheya Khoza (20) are at opposite ends of the South African spectrum.

They should have very different perspectives on the direction the county is moving in, right?

Wrong.

Despite their demographic differences, Pinheiro and Khoza share one defining characteristic not measured by any census: optimism.

A new study by the Brunswick Group shows that young South Africans such as Khoza and Pinheiro, despite their racial and gender differences, agree in their assessment of what is happening in the country.

Nearly half (47%) of black respondents aged between 18 and 24 believe society is changing for the better, and 46% of white youngsters in that bracket agree.

But among older people, 58% of blacks aged 40 and older believe society is changing for the better, while 58% of whites in the same age group believe it is changing for the worse.

The international survey canvassed 44 000 people across 26 countries last year and this year, including approximately 3 000 South Africans, split equally along racial lines.

The resultant report, called Perspectives, found that the attitudes and perspectives of people around the world are best characterised by a combination of five dimensions: generation, gender, geography, global cities and graduate status.

These – “the five Gs” – play a significant role in shaping a person’s perceptions of phenomena such as globalisation, government and society’s future.

Across the world, citizens of emerging markets such as China and Africa tend to be more optimistic about their society and future regardless of their education, generation, gender and geography. While those in developed countries such as the US and the UK were marked with pessimism and anxiety.

However, South Africa, classified as an emerging market, defies the construct with its pervasive negativity and economic anxiety. Overall, 76% of South Africans surveyed think things are “not well” with the country.

“I don’t want to call it a mess, but South Africa really is a mess,” Khoza said.

“There is a rise of sexism, a rise of racism, a rise of cultural intolerance. When we talk about what the ideal South Africa is, we hear of the rainbow nation and we hear of all these warm and comforting terms, but when you’re living in the country today, there are a lot of blurred lines that exclude certain cultures, races or genders.”

Lwazilwaphesheya Khoza (left) and Fabio Pinheiro (right) both remain hopeful about South Africa. (Michelle Bao)

Jeremy Ruch, director at Brunswick Insight and one of the lead researchers, says South African responses reflect the more optimistic elements of emerging markets, and the pessimism of developed markets.

Of those surveyed across all age groups, more than 50% of black South Africans believe society is changing for the better, compared with 38% of whites.

Pinheiro said that while his parents were now happy to live in South Africa, they probably would have emigrated years ago out of fear of political change.

Although the report found that black South Africans as a whole were less negative than other races about society and the country’s future, those racial differences in opinion disappear among the young.

Khoza and Pinheiro acknowledge the problems around them, but they are optimistic, even hopeful, about the future.

“I think South Africa has always had a lot of potential. We have a wealth of natural resources and our people are so diverse and creative,” Pinheiro said.

Khoza’s optimism is rooted in her faith in young South Africans coming together with a “solid, loud voice”.

“When the liberation movement started, the Tambos, the Luthulis, the Sisulus were young. The Mandelas were young. It really lies in the hands of young people to change the dynamics for future generations,” she said.

Older black South Africans, more optimistic about the country than their children, may now see them as ungrateful.

Khoza said her parents, who grew up under apartheid, believed she had a much easier life than they did – a better education and lifestyle – so they thought she should be appreciative, not protesting for change.

“I wouldn’t deny the fact that things are definitely better now compared with our past, but I don’t think we are where we should be,” Khoza said.

Prince Mashele, executive director of the Centre for Politics and Research, said: “Young people relate to the world as they see it and as they live in it today. They are greatly practical about today’s challenges – unemployment, lack of quality education, bad services and so on – and they are worried about their future.

“Young South Africans look at what is happening today and ask themselves if the future will be better or worse.

“Old people look back and ask if the past is better than what they see today.”

The Brunswick Group’s report also found that 61% of South Africans polled, both black and white, have a negative opinion of the ANC.

Even as a “loud and proud ANC member”, Khoza said the South African political system needed to be dismantled and rebuilt.

“We have messed up. We need to adopt doctrines and ways of thinking that are going to be pro-South African, pro-black and pro-accommodating of everyone,” she said.

Pinheiro agreed that a change in political leadership was necessary.

“South Africa’s history has a distinct current of its people making the change.

“That’s how apartheid ended and how democracy came about,” he said.

This shift in opinion meant the possibility of the ANC losing a national election in 2019 no longer sounded like madness, Mashele said.

“We need to recognise the older generation for their efforts because our parents’ generation fought to be accepted into the spaces that were previously white. But what our generation is now fighting for is inclusivity,” Khoza said.

“We’re in South Africa’s second revolution,” said the 20-year-old.

Read more on:    youth  |  race

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