The Nation states... the most important issues that preoccupy the nation

Top ranked national priorities 2012

With an ambitious set of priorities planned by national government ahead of the 2014 general election, Benjamin Roberts, Jarè Struwig and Steven Gordon have pulled together key headline findings from the November-December 2012 round of the South African Social Attitudes Survey (SASAS), giving a broad picture of the most important issues that preoccupy the nation.

SASAS is a nationally representative survey of the adult population (16 years and older), conducted by the HSRC on an annual basis since 2003. The survey series allows researchers to capture the opinions of the people on key social and economic issues in democratic South Africa. The highlighted results showcased here will cover several important topics that are likely to be discussed in the addresses.

National priorities

  • Unemployment continues to rank as the most important challenge facing the country, mentioned by 76% of all adult South Africans (figure 1).
  • The second most cited challenge is crime and safety, identified by nearly half (48%) of the population.
  • Other top priorities mentioned by the public were poverty (33%), HIV/AIDS (31%) and corruption (28%).
  • Pride and prejudice
  • 88% of South Africans feel that they would rather be a citizen of South Africa than any other country, with 73% stating that South Africa is generally a better country than most others.
  • Although 68% believe that race relations have improved since 1994, 41% feel that they are sometimes or frequently personally racially discriminated against and 56% believe that people of different race groups will never really trust or like each other.
  • Economic satisfaction
  • Evaluations of the current state of the economy are not especially favourable. Only 30% of the adult public reported that they were satisfied with the current economic situation in South Africa, 17% reported a neutral response and 51% expressed dissatisfaction.
  • Considering the performance of the economy in recent years, it is interesting to note that 42% of the public indicated that life had improved for people like them in the last five years. 32% reported that life had stayed the same while 25% reported that life had become worse.

Expected life improvements in next five years by age group (2012) Click to enlarge

Future outlook

  • Many South Africans remain positive about their future. Almost half (47%) of the population thought that life would improve for people like them in the next five years. Only 26% felt that life would become worse and 21% stated that life would remain the same.
  • Young South Africans (aged 16-19 years) appear especially optimistic relative to older generations, with 66% believing that life will improve for them in coming years (Figure 2). While this is encouraging, it also places a responsibility on the state to ensure that the aspirations of the youth are effectively realised as they make the transition into adulthood.
  • More disconcerting is the fact that 57% of the country believes that, generally speaking, things in the country are going in the wrong direction, with 37% believing that the country is heading in the right direction.

Poverty and inequality

  • Highlighting the severity of poverty in our nation, 28% of adult South Africans consider themselves as “poor” or “very poor”. In addition, 26% stated that the amount of food their household had over the past month was less than adequate for their needs, with 23% reporting that the clothing the household possessed was inadequate for their needs.
  • In relation to household service delivery, 32% of the adult public indicated that their household’s access to housing was not adequate for their needs. A quarter thought that their household’s access to healthcare was inadequate and 28% reported that their household’s access to transport was inadequate.
  • Given the importance of education to previous national budgets in South Africa, it is pleasing to note that 80% of South Africans with school-going children in their households believed that their access to schooling was either adequate or more than adequate for their needs.
  • The overwhelming majority of South Africans (91%) are concerned that income differences in our nation are too high.

Support for state intervention

  • There seems to be significant support for the government to take an active role in reducing inequality. Two-thirds of all adult South Africans believed that it is the responsibility of the government to reduce the differences in income between people with high incomes and those with low incomes.
  • Even greater backing was found for active state support of the poor and disenfranchised with 81% of the nation believing that the government should provide a decent standard of living for the unemployed.
  • 60% of South African adults support race-based affirmative action in the workplace.
  • Support for pro-poor social benefits was considerable. 72% of the adult population was satisfied with government’s handling of social grants in their area. 58% disagreed that government should spend less on benefits for the poor.
  • Most South Africans are dissatisfied with the way that local governments are handling efforts to create jobs. Only 7% of the country was satisfied with government job creation in their neighbourhood with 84% expressing dissatisfaction.
  • There is majority support for the redistribution of land in the country, with 64% of the adult population agreeing that the government should pursue this form of redress. However, only 23% expressed satisfaction with the way the government was handling land reform.

The value of education

  • In general South Africans are satisfied with the way that the government is handling education in their place of residence. 61% of all adult South Africans registered satisfaction with the government’s management of education and only 27% indicated that they were dissatisfied with the state’s performance. This does nonetheless represent a 10% drop in satisfaction over the last two years.
  • Secondary education seems to earn a vote of confidence from most South Africans. Three-fifths of the public believed that public secondary schools in South Africa currently prepare young people for work. Three-quarters stated that secondary schools perform well in teaching young people basic skills such as reading, writing and maths.
  • South Africans seem divided on the quality of present-day education in the country, with some feeling that it may have declined since the early post-apartheid period. 39% of the adult population expressed the view that school-leavers are not as well qualified when compared with a decade ago while 42% thought that school-leavers were better qualified today.

Crime and punishment

  • 51% believe that crime has increased in their neighbourhood in the last year, with 29% saying it has increased substantially.
  • 72% would feel unsafe if they had to walk alone in their area after dark, and 32% feel afraid of walking alone in their place of residence in the day time.
  • There is a strong preference for sterner sentencing for criminals. 75% believe that people who break the law should be given much harsher sentences than is presently the case, while 76% of South Africans believe court sentences are too light in cases of rape. 

The fight against corruption

  • South Africans are very concerned about corruption in the country. 95% of the population agreed that corruption is a major national problem.
  • There seem to be grave concerns about the manner in which the South African government is combating corruption; only one in ten South Africans were satisfied with the way the government is handling the fight against corruption in their area.
  • The public seems particularly intolerant of corruption among the political elite. 90% of the nation agreed that politicians found guilty of bribery or corruption should resign from public office immediately.

Authors: Benjamin Roberts and Jarè Struwig, coordinators of the South African Social Attitudes Survey (SASAS); Steven Gordon, PhD intern, Democracy, Governance & Service Delivery programme, HSRC.