07/02/2017 02:59 GMT | Updated 07/02/2017 05:30 GMT

SAIRR: Ignore The Media And Social Media Noise, Race Relations In SA Are In Good Health

The views of the majority of South Africans are very different from the damaging vitriol to be found on social media...

Muntu Vilakazi / City Press / Gallo Images
DA leader Mmusi Maimane with Helen Zille at the party'€™s federal conference on May 10, 2015 in Port Elizabeth, South Africa.

This forms the second of a three-part release ahead of the 2017 State of the Nation Address. You can read the first, on transformation, here. - blogs editor

In December 2016, roughly a year after Penny Sparrow's hurtful and insulting comments equating black beachgoers in KwaZulu-Natal to 'monkeys', remarks of a similar kind were made in another Facebook post. Commenting on a photograph of a packed Durban beach, Sandton resident Ben Sasanof wrote that the crowded beach 'must have smelt like the inside of Zuma's asshole'. When critics accused him of racism for this incendiary analogy, Mr Sasanof responded with yet more outrageous remarks. He also called one commentator 'a monkey'.

Several other racially offensive comments also came to light during 2016. Estate agent Vicki Momberg, the victim of a smash-and-grab robbery, was caught on video using the 'k-word' and reportedly saying that she would drive over black people and shoot them if she had a gun.


Various threats of violence against whites were also reported. Velaphi Khumalo, an employee of the Gauteng provincial administration, tweeted that whites should be 'hacked and killed like Jews' and their children 'used as garden fertiliser'. Other comments by black South Africans called for whites to be 'poisoned and killed', urged 'the total destruction of white people', and advocated a civil war in which 'all white people would be killed'.


Julius Malema, leader of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), added to the threats of violence against whites. Having been charged under the Riotous Assemblies Act of 1956 for inciting land invasions, he emerged from a court appearance in Newcastle (KwaZulu-Natal) in November 2016 to say: 'They (white people) found peaceful Africans here. They killed them. They slaughtered them, like animals! We are not calling for the slaughter of white people, at least for now!'


Comments of this kind have been given persistent and splash coverage by the media, reinforcing perceptions that South Africa might yet descend into a race war.

Against this charged background, the IRR once again commissioned a field survey aimed at cutting through the rhetoric and finding out how South Africans themselves view race relations in the country. The 2016 field survey was a follow-up to an earlier one carried out in September 2015. (The IRR reported on the results of this survey in March 2016 under the title Race Relations in South Africa, Reasons for Hope.)

The 2016 survey canvassed the views of a carefully balanced sample of 2,291 people from all nine provinces. It covered both rural and urban areas and all socioeconomic strata. Of the respondents, 78% were black, 9.2% were coloured, 2.8% were Indian, and 9.9% were white.


The results of the 2016 survey are again mainly positive and should once more fill the country with hope. The views of the overwhelming majority of South Africans are very different from the damaging vitriol to be found on social media and that often seems to dominate the race debate. Contrary to what many commentators claim, the 2016 survey shows that some 72% of South Africans report no personal experience of racism in their daily lives. In addition, more than half of respondents (55%) believe race relations have improved since 1994, while a much smaller proportion (13%) think they have worsened. Few South Africans regard racism as a serious unresolved problem, with 3% of respondents identifying it in this way. An overwhelming majority (84%) agree that the different races need each other and that there should be full opportunities for people of all colours.

These findings confirm how important it is for South Africans across the colour line to be able to slice through the racial rhetoric and identify what their fellow countrymen truly think on a range of race-related issues. They can then base their understanding on sound data, rather than damaging conjecture. The IRR's field surveys help to fulfil this important need.