A valuable survey

2008-06-12 00:00

A seminar was held in the city recently to hear and discuss the findings of a carefully researched survey by the Pietermaritzburg Agency for Christian Social Awareness (Pacsa) and the KwaZulu-Natal Democracy Consortium. The survey covers the current socio-political attitudes in six poverty-stricken communities within the far-flung uMgungundlovu District municipality. A major value of this research is that it has produced a tangible outcome of social analysis which is very different from the whims and fancies that sometimes claim to pass as solid facts.

The result is an interesting picture of distinctions and paradoxes. There is the joy of being part of the new democratic society, of participating in the electoral process, of having a government in place that is essentially for them rather than, as in the past, against them. Yet there is disillusionment with what democracy has actually achieved, especially in the economic sphere. Most of those interviewed, both men and women, are unemployed. Democracy for these people means primarily economic empowerment and sufficient space to engage with their elected political leaders about ways to end their poverty. Although they have welcomed the holding of government-sponsored imbizos in their communities, they are disappointed that nothing concrete has come from them.

Interestingly, the churches receive a positive rating in this survey, all respondents agreeing that they see democracy at work in and through the churches which are also agents of unity and reconciliation. This highlights the importance of institutions and groups in civil society and the role that they can play. A more creative partnership between them and local government would clearly help to facilitate improved delivery services.

In a feature article in this newspaper yesterday the Dominican theologian and author, Albert Nolan, highlighted what he called “our culture of blame” whereby many South Africans play an escapist “blame game”, constantly finding scapegoats for our difficulties, whether apartheid or the media or the present government, not least the president himself. This article and the Pacsa survey both offer an alternative route, not at the exclusion of legitimate criticism, but in favour of finding a fresh energy for levels of co-operation and healthy compromise in the interests of the common good.

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