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This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Foundation, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

The November/December 1994 Focus Groups

were carried out six months after that "miracle" elections. A lingering sense of the euphoria the election engendered was still in the air, and blacks were what might best be described as being in a state of "waiting," although the sense of anticipation was slowly being eroded by a sense of impatience as to why it was taking so long for "their" government to deliver on the promises it had so effusively made during the election campaign.

Whites were beginning to feel a little more relaxed no great upheavals had shattered their comfortable lives, but they, too, were still apprehensive --- just because the government had not gotten around to changing the way they lived forever, didn't mean it still wasn't its intention to do so. President Mandela's reassurances that whites were an integral part of and germane to the success of the new South Africa were being treated with the usual suspicion, although his his appearance at the World Cup Rugby Final between South Africa ( the Springboks) and New Zealand ( the All-Blacks) wearing the Springbok uniform and the jersey with no.6 emblazoned on the back, his embrace of the team, unconcealed delight -- and -- pride when they won instilled a national "togetherness," a sense of their being one nation, perhaps for the first time. But in general the mood of whites might also be described as one of "waiting."

Again the FGR was confined to non-whites: respondents in nine groups were African, four were Coloured, and two were Indian. Eight of the groups comprised men, seven women. And groups were held in metropolitan, urban, rural, informal areas and hostels.

The FGR indicated the ambivalence of blacks. Overall,  the majority of groups believed that little or no change had taken place since the election in April, and that what change had occurred was benefiting other groups, not theirs.

Coloured and Indian respondents felt that Africans were benefiting from the new order; rural Africans felt that urban Africans were benefiting  at their expense.

"All the African respondents said non-delivery on promises made before the elections was causing anger and dissatisfaction with the government"

"It would have been better if we had not voted"

(Is this because they associated voting with getting the things they had been denied under apartheid?)

Those who had seen change were optimistic about the future; those who hadn't were pessimistic.

(With all the emphasis on voter education and getting people out to vote, no one had, of course, paid any attention to educating people with regard to the realities of democracy and the conditions in which they lived. If voting meant getting the things they were denied underapartheid, then clearly they were not getting those things, therefore, voting made no difference. To a certain extent, they had been sold "a bill of goods." One reason for the rather quick onset of some, or in cases a great deal of disillusionment, was the ANC's own fault: they had made the promises, they had raised expectations to an extraordinary level, and the stories that circulated around the time of the election -- how some blacks were already picking out the houses in white urban areas they would move into after the ANC took over -- were often more than merely apocryphal; thus if one and one made two, voting didn't, contrary to what they had been led to believe, bring jobs and houses).

Government was spending too much time alleviating the fears of whites at the expense of the needs of the African majority who had voted them into power.

Indian and Coloureds were worried about their financial and physical security under a government mostly run by Africans.

Positive change in health care where pregnant mothers and children were receiving free medical-care.

But even if Africans were disappointed, they thought things would get better in the future when the government got more experience and got a better grip on the reins of power. Experience would count. Also, respondents were prepared to say that the six month period since the election was to short a period to make assessments of change.

( Thus, participants, although disappointed with the rate of change were 1) prepared to give the government more time-some said two years to judge its efficacy, and 2) as the government got more experience it would get better. After six months, the government was still being given the benefit of the doubt).

Indians and Coloureds were pessimistic about the future. Some felt insecure and scared. The "fear of the unknown." Rising fear of crime.

Little knowledge or awareness of the RDP or what it was about. The suggestion was that if people knew what it was about, they would likely be more optimistic about the future.

National government seen as primarily responsible for change.

Little awareness of the role and functions of provincial and local governments

Mandela was seen as the government by Africans.

Respondents felt strongly that the community should play a strong role in finding solutions to their problems, but that the resources to play that role must come from the government.

"The eagerness to play a significant role was also reflected in respondents' comments that if they got jobs, they would be able to build houses, rather than wait for the government to provide them with a "free house." The community will and desire to be active players in their own development provides a bedrock of goodwill for the RDP at national and regional levels. This should be encouraged and built upon but will not last without being nurtured.

(Was it? The RDP withered on the vine. The 'Masakane' campaign, after three/four years is still encountering difficulties. Is it because of the culture of entitlement? The habit of not even being able to remember when they last paid? Because they can't make ends meet if they paid? Don't have the money? And in some cases, see no delivery? See 1997 FGR, over one-third of municipalities bankrupt, corruption and inefficiency rife, people more disillusioned, ready to throw in the towel. What killed the 'spirit of the revolution' or was there ever a revolution. See article in the M&G 6 November '98, by John Matisonn:

One analyst who knows the ANC well argues that the interpretation of the ANC as a fundamentally revolutionary movement is wrong. 'During the struggle, the ANC that journalists and outsiders saw tended to be the revolutionaries,' said Businessmap's Jenny Cargill.

'But we forget: the ANC was founded to unify tribal conflict and provide a forum for black intellectuals. It consistently nurtured tolerance and moderation.' While it was a broad enough church to include the communist party, Mandela and Oliver Tambo, for example, were never Marxists or particularly rhetorical. Its character is pragmatic.

While this analysis of the ANC means for the economics debate is that faced with the contradictions of the RDP, its highest concerns would be to balance the most powerful forces and avoid glaring risks.

See 1997 focus groups, Markinor, Datasense, IDASA polls.

Main areas of concern:

Lack of adequate housing

Many African participants felt entitled to jobs on the basis of promises they feel were made to them during the election campaign. ( In the 1994 campaign, who fashioned the 'message.' Stanberg et al? Who handled marketing? Was the campaign really a replay of the Clinton 1992 campaign: 'it's the economy, stupid.' And did US consultants devise a campaign for the ANC that was inherently fraudulently in that the ANC had neither the resources or the capacity to deliver on the promises so easily made? Did these advisers, in that sense, unwittingly or wittingly, create a climate conducive to a quick loss of faith in democracy as the instrument that would bring to people the things they were led to believe "their" government would bring? Was the drive to maximise the vote done at the price of creating the basis for a quick erosion of confidence in thing new-fangled thing called 'democracy.'?)

"However it was not only the unemployed who complained. Employed respondents protested against poor working conditions, irregular hours, and unpaid overtime. Low wages in the heart of a recession were frequently mentioned. The absence of projects generated by the RDP was seen to be compounding the problem of unemployment."


"Respondents who did not see visible changes in their area assume others are benefiting and became embittered."

(At this point, crime had not yet raised its vicious head as an issue of major concern. Perhaps because in this period of the transition there was a hiatus of sorts: political violence was way down, criminal violence had not yet filled the void. Perhaps, people so often the victims of political violence, had gotten used to seeing all violence in terms of politics, or that the sheer scale of the political violence had made them 'immune' to the violence that engulfed them at all others. And in white areas, increasing urbanization in the wake of the abolition of all forms of population movement, the proliferation of squatter camps, and the breakdown in social controls, made an increase in crime inevitable a crime increase is a common phenomenon in countries undergoing rapid urbanization in which there are huge disparities between rich and poor.

All the 'disadvantaged groups' were looking for benefits even if it meant benefits at the expense of others. Hence, the underlying resentment that 'others' were benefiting while they were not. Especially the hostility directed at Coloureds and Indians. Thus, no sense at all of a national cohesiveness or even a cohesiveness among the disadvantaged that they were all in it together and would need to sacrifice on behalf of one another. That their sacrifices now would earn dividends for their children. Had daily exposure to white consumerism the ritzy stores at the Charlton, ubiquity of western consumerism, whether in clothes or music or culture, the barrage of consumer advertizing they were exposed to billboards, newspapers, radio, television simply turned them into ready- made consumers ready to be exploited? See John Kane-Berman's The Silent Revolution.

Also, the focus of what people wanted, and their prioritization of their needs appeared to have changed. Education, which had dominated the agenda in 1992 appeared to have slipped indeed in this FGR it wasn't mentioned as being among respondents top priorities. And it slipped again in 1997 and 1998. Was this because education had become better and hence less of a priority in the sense that it was being adequately dealt with or an increase in 'me-to-ism'?)

"Housing was mentioned as a concern by a number of respondents, particularly those from informal settlements."

The association of jobs, no matter how poorly paid, and housing the attitude that "if we had jobs we would be able to build houses ourselves and that there would be a decrease in crime and other social ailments.

(What did respondents mean by 'house'? Had they any idea of what was involved in building a house or was this more an expression of a wish?)

"Respondents in seven of the groups reported that racism in the work-place had increased since the election"

(Was this a way of whites venting their hostility and resentment at the black takeover? A way of showing that they were still in charge superior?)

"Affirmative action emerged as an area of contention among the different race groups."

Africans thought there was a bias toward whites; Coloureds that there was a bias toward Africans.

"All groups from informal areas, rural areas, and small towns complained of inadequate infrastructure in their areas. They were mainly concerned about the lack of water, electricity,, sanitation, and recreation and medical facilities."

(See the IDASA 1998 poll these no longer figured as issues of any significant extent; they were also the areas in which the government had made the most progress: 2.7 million people of the 14 million who had no water in 1994 have water now; 70 per cent of 6 million houses that did not have electricity will be wired by election time does not include informal settlements, who else does it not include? How about provision of electricity to rural areas? [Ben Bradlee, Boston Sunday Globe, 8 November '98] Remember Richmond? The new school going unused? How much capacity/ infrastructure is being built but is not being used because either the 'needs' equation has changed or because the skills' capacity to use it isn't there?)

Xenophobia on increase racism against Africans from elsewhere. "Illegal immigrants," or even legal ones are seen as being prepared to take jobs at lower wages than Africans, and taking limited resources away from South Africans.

(Considering what some of these countries went through to support the apartheid struggle, there is no feeling of reciprocal thanks involved here. See Linda Twala in Alex on Mozambique immigrants, and the more recent cases of immigrants on commuter train being beaten to death. Allied to this is the fact that residents of many other countries in Africa don't like South Africans. Remember the story that Africans in the Department of Foreign affairs did not want to take diplomatic posts in African countries, and Derek Keys' remark that 'if you have to be poor, South Africa isn't a bad country to be poor in.'

"They [foreigners] will impregnate our sisters but will not marry them. We will soon have the added burden of feeding these children. They are also responsible for spreading AIDS in the country."

As regards  crime and violence, there was some propensity to associate the coming of democracy with an increase in lawlessness. Most, participants, however, attributed the increase in crime to lax punishment crime paid. All wanted harsher penalties. Coloureds and Indians were prone to see crime in racial terms there being a black government and crime as being committed by Africans.

(Crime as a symbol of racial divide between Africans/Coloureds/Indians).

Sexual abuse and rape were also seen as being on the increase.

Political violence was hardly mentioned at all.

(Considering the state of the country in the years leading up to the election in 1994, this signifies a profound change).

"Contrary opinions were expressed regarding the issue of education. Some felt the system had become desegregated. Others felt whites were trying to frustrate attempts to integrate schools. Or that black educational standards were lower than whites, with the result that many African matriculants found themselves unemployable after finishing school while their white counterparts did not.

(All matriculants take the same exams. Remember 1997 matric results highest failure rates of all time. Also, some of the best results from the poorest schools. As elsewhere, the degree of parental involvement is the key).

As regards local government, most participants were confused by what local government is. Also, confused by more elections. Were these a second general election? What knowledge they had came from their experiences with the apartheid local councils seen as corrupt/ part of old system. But participants also made the point that some civic leaders were also corrupt. Few knew of forthcoming local elections.  "The illegitimate background to local elections has to overcome as part of the voter education program."

As regards traditional leaders, older women from rural Natal had the most positive attitudes towards traditional leaders. Young men the poorest. Yet, even the young men felt the traditional leaders had a role to play resolving social and family problems, but not encroaching on LG, although they should work closely with it. Overall, on the question, views were mixed yes, traditional leaders should play a role, but few, if any, could put their fingers on what precisely that role should be.

On Voting

"For all of them, April 27th 1994 has become a symbolic of the society South Africa could be. However, because of the negative post-election mood, South Africa is now looked back on nostalgically, as the one occasion when the new South Affrica was with us."

(Anomie had already set in).

Coloured men from the Cape had the most ambivalent feelings. On the one hand there was the joy; on the other most of them were voting for the NP the party that were sure to lose at the national level. Their feelings were also affected by their sense of being an embattled minority formerly they had lost out to whites, now they were about to lose out to Africans.

"This country will never be the one everyone dreamed of."

There were three main reasons for voting:


A better future

To put blacks into power: only Africans said they voted to put blacks in government.

Less frequently mentioned reasons were for the rights and freedoms denied under apartheid for the sake of respondents' children.

(See 1992 focus groups)

"A tension exists between the desire to vote for a deepening of democracy, continuing the process begun in April; and a focus on service delivery voting for direct personal benefit."

Since April'94, respondents had become disillusioned. All had had high expectations of the immediate benefits that would accrue as a result of the election. Most fekt their expectations had not been met. Will unfilled expectations make people less inclined to vote in the local elections?

Their expectations:

End of poverty

Living immediately in a brick house

Changes by the 'end of the week'/ 'by November'

"I was entertaining great hopes that everything would change quickly, according to the campaign promises."


Respondents fell into two groups

Those who felt betrayed

Those who were prepared to give the government more time.

(Was it the promises that were made in the election under the banner of the RDP to " meet the basic needs of people jobs, land, housing, water, electricity, telecommunications, transport, a clean and healthy environment, nutrition, health and social welfare.." Its "achievable program" for the first five years would include programs to "redistribute a substantial amount of land to landless people, build over one million houses, provide clean water and sanitation to all, electrify 2.5 million new homes, and provide access to all to affordable health care and telecommunications." In the ANC's campaign manifesto and political advertizing that created the illusion among people that 'instant' change was going to happen. "Instant gratification" who 'sold' the ANC on this idea that the people could be sold anything? Why did the ANC make such extravagant promises when it was not necessary to do so? Did the medium become the message an electorate never having had to deal with election promises, since neither elections or promises existed in the past mistook the promise for the deed, in the belief that promises would not be made by "their party" unless they were going to be kept. Promises and delivery became synonymous for an electorate which had never heard those kinds of promises made before. It would appear that "freedom," "democracy," were seen almost exclusively in material terms of the delivery of goods and services not the adoption of a code of values or a belief system. Didn't western advisers sell the same 'bill of goods to Chileans' not to campaign on the basis of the brutalities/oppression imposed under Pinochet, but to emphasize a better tomorrow jobs, growing economy etc. a happy future. Who put them up to this? Was South Africa merely a repetition of the mantra that under the ANC, "Tomorrow will be a Better Day." A free lunch in the offing. What happened between 1992 and the elections an election campaign structured on the basis of polling, and the polling messages were drummed in, so that people's conception of what the process was all about changed. They were told time and again what their needs were and that they would be fulfilled, once the ANC was in power. No African was going to vote for the ANC because he thought that he was going to get a brand new house and a job. He was told by the ANC that if he voted for the party this was what he could expect. False expectations were created. But who was behind the creation of the false expectations? Who said to the ANC 'this is the way to do it. This is the way to get the largest possible slice of the vote, and if it took a little dissembling, and flew in the face of every reality so what? If Derek Keys had briefed the ANC, which he says he did, on the direction in which the economy was moving and the imminence of collapse, who in the ANC said 'let's deal with reality after we win." Given what ANC knew about the parlous state of the economy, where did it think the resources were coming from to fund these massive expenditures?

Also interesting how many times "benefiting the other' cropped up, where the 'other' did not stand for an individual but for another group. The precursor of a zero-sum mentality others gaining at my expense.)

"Feelings of disillusionment seem to be strongest among respondents drawn from the poorer socio-economic areas. They are the ones in greatest need, and those who feel the backlash of white racism in the workplace. They are also those who were motivated to vote in order to get a black government. Those who had the highest expectations also had the most pressing needs. Many knew of the RDP, but felt that it was benefiting others.

"The various RDP campaigns at national and regional level urgently need to mount educational campaigns which both inform people about the RDP and involve them in the programme. These must target poorer socio-economic areas. The aim would be to inform people about the RDP and what it is trying to achieve while soliciting input from people who feel sidelined."

Other participants felt less negative and were prepared to give the government more time. Especially women. Other issues mentioned mostly by women:

Free childcare


removal of white government

diminution of political violence

ability to brew and sell beer without fear of prosecution

feeling of citizenship

Most felt that two years should be enough time for the government to begin delivering concrete benefits.

(See 1997 FGR)

( It makes sense that women would be more disposed toward the government than men the free child care, free medical care for pregnant women, education ---Women's issues)

"April 27 has entered the national consciousness as a moment of peace, democracy, and national unity. It was recalled with near spiritual feelings by respondents in all the focus groups, representing men and women, young and old, African, Coloured, and Indians, from cities, small towns, rural areas, and informal areas."


Only 1 per cent of ballots were spoiled in 1994

Participants were confused as to why they had to vote again

Did not understand what they were going to vote for, or for whom

Didn't know much about what local government did

Believe it was too soon to vote again

"They understood that elections were about accountability, but believed it was too early to make judgments.

Had been told they wouldn't have to vote again for five years.

Most respondents were concerned about the divisive, confusing, and potentially destructive impacts of different parties and groups at different levels.

"ANC supporters, especially younger blacks and township dwellers were particularly concerned about these elections imposing 'apartheid' and undermining the government with divisions. Even after two hours, participants said these elections were confusing."

(Association with the apartheid government's Black councils??)

Also fears of LGUs pitting areas against each other dividing people into smaller areas

(Again, the apartheid associations; of separateness; of being split up I order to dilute strength. But a lot had to do with ignorance. There were significant changes inattitudes once people were informed about the nature of local government. However, what were they being told? That LG would speed delivery? If so, then little wonder that people became a little more enthusiastic! i.e. "respondents became excited about the idea of voting for local representatives who would act as a channel" for their complaints to reach the national parliament and, as local people, would take responsibility for local services and concerns." No wonder they became more excited!! As I recall, many of the candidates were simply foisted on the people who often knew few of them, met fewer, and found their 'voices' to be rather mute).

Many respondents felt they should be given a list of candidates and that the candidates should earn their votes. They resented "outsiders" suddenly appearing out of nowhere, and introducing themselves as candidates for local office.>any had never met or had any idea whp their local councilors were.

Young men in rural areas were most likely to say that the role of traditional leaders in local government should be confined to solving family disputes and resolving social problems in the community.

Having register to vote posed a problem. Some absolutely refused to register. Indeed, many were angry at the suggestuion that they would have to register giving details of their families, their addresses etc. was an athemena to most.

(Again, the residual fears of the past; the association of registration of ant type woth Pass laws etc.)

"Although a degree of cynicism existed as regards the "rewards" of voting, it had not yet reached a level where people would disenfranchise themselves because of it.


The problem with local government elections is not 'voting' once it was explained to them what local government was about, most were enthusiastic, but with what they were voting for.

Two strategies were put forward:

(a).  Promote elections as the next step in democracy "finish the job."

(b).  Educate voters with regard to what local government is about and have voters participate to make choices for that level of government.

The FRG recommended the second on the grounds that South Africans were tiring of symbolic progress, they wanted tangible improvements for their families. The message for local government could focus on getting those results.

(If the message did, it may backfire against the ANC in the 1999 elections while promises of great things to come area always an attractive way to get a simple message out, it may begin to loose its appeal, if the delivery promised never occurs. This more than anything, will turn people "off" and leave them more cynical).

Many people talked about the distance of the national government every group expressed a sense of distance and a lack of voice.

People feel emotional about the national government forgetting them. They like the idea of personalizing government and feel that if councilors are drawn from their distracts, councilors will be more like them and more responsive to their needs i.e. local elections are a way to speed up and localize change.

(Is a case being made here that for democracies getting off the ground, a constituency rather than a party list system may be preferable. If you want to give people a sense of belonging to government or part of what is going on, especially when they are not going to feel the impact of "the revolution" for a long time, and things are likely to get tougher in the short run, rather than better).

People see local elections as as a way in which to involve "ordinary" people in politics. People who are more community -oriented and less political.

"We'll vote for people who will listen to our problems."

Ideally, participants saw local government the local council can pressure the national government, and the national government can hold the local government in line.

Few thought they would use their vote to express a protest at things not done or to give air to their grievances.

Although people are frustrated about the pace of change, that believe government should be given more time, and they are slowly beginning to see change emanate from the new structures. They are still positive about transformation.

Again the mantra "If Mandela says I must vote, I will vote"

(It will be interesting to see whether the same tactic works in 1999 electiomns the old "win one for the Gipper" routine)

(Also, very notable: in the whole FGS there wasn't a single mention of provincial government! Why?). 

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Foundation, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. Return to theThis resource is hosted by the site.