- Policies in South Africa regarding "moral" issues are more "progressive" than the attitudes of the electorate, a new survey shows. While the constitution guarantees the rights of sexual minorities, 78 percent of South Africans totally disapprove of same-sex relations. A significant majority also rejects abortion and is in favour of the death penalty.
A national survey of nearly 5000 adults, conducted by the Human Sciences Research Council of South Africa (HSRC) has mapped social attitudes among South Africans. According to the results of this annual survey, most citizens oppose abortion, same-sex adult sexual relationships and support capital punishment.
More than three-quarters - 78 percent - of South Africans aged 16 and older feel that sexual relations between two adults of the same gender are "always wrong", the study found. Less than one in fifteen at a national level think that homosexual relationships are "not wrong at all".
The HSRC study reveals significant spatial and racial differences among South Africans' moral perceptions regarding homosexuality. Disapproval is at the 64 percent level among coloureds, 70 percent among whites, 76 percent among Indians and 81 percent among black Africans, referring to South Africa's old racial classification.
Geographically, widely rural states such as Limpopo residents and Eastern Cape show the highest total disapproval rates of homosexuals; around 90 percent. In the Free State and in Western Cape - the latter housing South Africa's gay capital, Cape Town - total disapproval rates are around three quarter of the population. Urban formal residents are more positive towards homosexuals than rural residents. Perceptions were not influence by age or gender.
The high disapproval rate of homosexuality strongly contrasts South Africa's legal and political situation. The constitution of South Africa is the world's only to protect sexual minorities from discrimination. All political have also rallied to win over the country's gay and lesbian voters prior to elections by promising to fight discrimination based on sexual orientation.
Even South Africa's Anglican Church is among the world's most liberal Christian communities regarding homosexuality. Archbishop Njongonkulu Ndungane of Cape Town has been the Anglican Communion's most outspoken defender of including homosexuals in the Church. The HSRC survey thus documents that South Africa's Anglican Church is far more "progressive" than its churchgoers.
The research council's study further reveals that South Africans are more conservative regarding abortions than reflected in national legislation and politics. More than half - 56 percent - of South African adults think that abortion is "always wrong" in the event of it being discovered that there is a strong chance of serious defect in the unborn child. Only 21 percent think that abortion in such a situation is "not wrong at all".
Asked whether abortion would be right "if the family has a low income and cannot afford any more children," opposition is even stronger. 70 percent of South Africans find it totally wrong to go through with abortion due to poverty reasons.
- Although the two dominant political parties, the African National Congress (ANC) and the Democratic Alliance (DA), support the liberalisation of abortion policies, recent debates suggest some shifts in thinking, comments Stephen Rule of the HSRC. In contrast, the African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP) has consistently been out-spoken on the topic.
An ACDP member of the National Assembly, Cheryllyn Dudley, has stated that many politicians are actually against abortion in principle, but supported the Termination of Pregnancy Act because "they wanted to be politically correct."
Abortion has been permitted in South Africa since the 1994 passing of the Termination of Pregnancy Act. As homosexuality, abortion is however "hotly contested in civil society," according to Dr Rule, especially within the Christian community.
Also a re-introduction of the death penalty - abolished only a decade ago - has become policy for several opposition parties. South African voters would favour this, the HSRC survey found. The study found that 75 percent "strongly agree" or "agree" that capital punishment should be imposed on someone convicted of murder. The pro-death penalty sentiment is strongest among white South Africans, women and urban dwellers.
Dr Rule however concludes that while "traditionalism" stands stronger among South Africans than is reflected in law and politics, these "moral issues" still are not decisive in elections. Among those South Africans who consider the "progressive" policy to be "wrong", this "rarely results in activism and has a minimal influence on voting behaviour," the scientist concludes.
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