Dear Max: most South Africans don't hate each other

Dear Max,

I write this letter to you in response to your column this week about race relations in South Africa. 

I understand completely why your experience of the media and social media leads to the impression that race relations are worsening. I think that is the experience of every writer or commentator who offers opinions in South Africa’s fraught public domain. But outside of that domain we see a very different country – one in which people understand the value of their mutual interdependence and have real respect for each other across lines of colour.

That other world is revealed in opinion polling data we have conducted over the past two years. The data of the 2015 polling was first released in 2016 via a report titled Race Relations in South Africa: Reasons for Hope – a link to which can be found here. We have just received the updated 2016 polling results and I want to share just two of the findings with you (a full report will be released early in 2017).

We put it to respondents that “the different races need each other for progress and there should be full opportunity for people of all races” and asked whether they agreed or disagreed with that statement. Nearly 84% of people in mainly black urban areas agreed or strongly agreed with the statement. In informal areas and shack settlements almost 90% agreed. Among white people just over 80% agreed.

Approximately 60% of black people disagreed with the statement that “South Africa is a country for black-Africans and white people must learn to take second place”. Only 30% agreed and 10% were uncertain.

You are of course right that we are very far away from being a post-racial society – our economic divide and current weak growth performance prevents that. It is perhaps, also, an outcome we will never achieve – very few societies have. But our polling is clear that there resides within the great majority of South Africans a vast well of common decency and mutual respect across the colour line. This is all the more remarkable considering our history and continuing inequalities and the extent some commentators and political leaders have gone to in turning us against each other. I know that goodwill is now coming under great pressure and to warn that it may not last is fair, but it has never been a mistake to bet on the common sense and mutual goodwill of the majority of South Africa’s people. Have faith in them and do not allow the minority that would turn us against each other to change that.  

Kind regards,

*Frans Cronje is CEO of the South African Institute of Race Relations (SAIRR).

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