Eye witness

June 4, 1999

This week's elections in South Africa offered the first chance for the electorate to deliver a verdict on the first majority government's handling of the transition from apartheid.

Barring a major upset, Thabo Mbeki, Nelson Mandela's deputy president for the past five years, will take over from the man who has become the world's best known statesman.

The outcome will have been largely determined by the feel-good factor among the relatively-new black electorate, particularly among the poor.

All the evidence suggests that despite the problems in the economy, crime and the lack of progress with education and housing, the black com-

munity is optimistic. A poll of 3,000 households by Reality Check, commissioned by the Kaiser Foundation, found that while black Africans comprised three-quarters of the populat-

ion, they made up just 15 per cent of the pessimists but more than 90 per cent of the optimists. In contrast, whites made up 11 per cent of the population, but more than two-thirds of the pessimists and 2 per cent of the optimists.

Whites and Indians also counted themselves firmly among the losers. This contrasts with research by Valerie Moller of Rhodes University in the decade up to 1994. Professor Moller reported nearly 90 per cent of these groups to be satisfied or very satisfied with their lives in 1983, and 80 per cent in 1988 and 1990. Only a third of Africans were satisfied in 1988, but after the 1994 elections she found that black and white people "reported equal levels of satisfaction and happiness".

But inequalities are growing. Julian May of the University of Natal says income redistrib-

ution has been from the richest to middle-income households, not to the very poor. He says that the poorest 40 per cent of households account for 11 per cent of total income, while the richest 10 per cent, while only 7 per cent of the population, earn more than 40 per cent of total income.

"This is not simply a picture of rich whites and poor blacks. Inequality between African households accounts for 29 per cent to 49 per cent of overall inequality, depending on the measure chosen."

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