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On the one hand…. In an interview with Al Jazeera 15 June 2013, Reverend Frank Chikane, Director-General of the Presidency under President Mbeki and author of The Things That Could Not Be Said, commented that: “I thought blacks and whites would work together but since de Klerk left, I have the feeling that the whites in the country have folded their arms and are waiting for this black government to change the country”. 

On the other hand…. “To suddenly see a group of white adults organising black children with half-truths can  only be opportunistic, patronising and simply dishonest to say the least”, said Angie Motshekga, Minister of Basic Education. Yoliswa Dwane, the chairwoman of social advocacy group Equal Education, organisers of the march in question was quick to hit back describing the statement as a serious attack on non-racism, the constitution and the legacy of Nelson Mandela.

So… are whites damned if they do and damned if they don’t? Why is race so often the issue? Is race being used to whitewash or divert attention from the real issues? futurefact finds that the spirit of the ‘Rainbow Nation’ and Nelson Mandela’s legacy of peace, reconciliation and racial harmony are intact among all races. 8 out of 10 white South Africans (and similar proportions of all South Africans) agreed that “black and white people in South Africa 

need each other to survive and prosper” and that all South Africans are equal regardless of race, religion or political belief. 9 out of 10 whites feel they belong in South Africa and three-quarters are proud to call themselves South Africans. Nonetheless, despite the peaceful transition to a fully democratic society, (BUT in keeping with the’ folded arms’ analogy), futurefact finds that white South Africans are comparatively more guarded when it comes to their commitment and the levels to which they are prepared to get involved. Part of the reason could be the post 1994 decision to ‘fast-track’ other than white South Africans to make up for the inequalities of the past. Policies such as black economic empowerment and affirmative action were part of this conscious process. 

So, even though they may understand the rationale behind such policies it would seem that the result has been to make some white South Africans feel somewhat excluded and less inclined to lend their whole-hearted support. Similarly, the finding that some black South Africans continue to harbour relatively high levels of resentment towards white South Africans could be adding to sense of alienation felt by some white South Africans and contributing to their ‘arm-folding’. 

So, going back to where we started and Rev. Chikane’s belief that “whites have folded their arms”, he went on to say: “I argue but can’t be done with taxpayers’ money only …you need people who own capital and own assets and who are able to make a difference in the economy – government doesn’t run business and that’s where we need to put our hands together again, blacks and whites. How do we change this economy so it will create jobs, open opportunities, give back to new entrepreneurs – time to go back to the drawing boards”. It may have been naïve to hope that we could build a united nation in less than 20 years but futurefact has shown that white and black South Africans recognise their mutual common dependency for the creation of a viable, successful society. 

There is no question that there are serious racial issues historically and currently in South Africa. Perhaps if the race card was not dealt so readily by all sides we could avoid the ‘Cry Wolf’ syndrome so that when racial issues are real, we join together to resolve them. futurefact has been surveying the attitudes and beliefs of South Africans since 1998. The findings presented above are from futurefact 2012 which is based on a probability sample of 2,946 adults aged 15 years and over, living in communities of more than 500 people throughout South Africa representing 21.6 million adults. futurefact 2013 is in field based on a sample of 3,000. 

If you would like to find out more about futurefact and its extensive attitudinal databases please contact Jos Kuper 082 904 9939 or check out www.futurefact.co.za