Part of what Butch does is keep a finger on the pulse of young South Africans. What are their interests, their hopes, their desires? How do they feel about the world they live in, and do they see it getting better or worse? When anything is reported in the media that we think might have relevance to them, we field a survey as soon as we are able to. Some of the results end up being reported on in the media, and some of the results are fed back to respondents directly, so they can see how others felt about the topics on which they were interviewed. But it can be a roller coaster ride of emotions, taking a constant look into young people’s lives in South Africa.There can be the good. Like the fact that the majority of them are incurably romantic, believing that somewhere out there is the perfect partner. A partner who will bring happiness into their life. Somebody to love, and who will love them in return. They really are hungry for love. Let us hope that they find it.
MD of Pondering Panda, Butch Rice in conversation with BizRadio’s Grant Jansen
Podcast | Click HERE to listen
And then there is the downright depressing. Like the fact that less than one in two live in a household with a mother and a father. The implications of this are obviously horrendous. The traditional family structure has broken down, and it would appear to be irretrievable. They live in a world where nearly half of them believe that, in ten years time, South Africa will be a worse place for them to be living in than it is now. Not much hope of things getting better.
They experience the problem of drugs as widespread, and worsening. So too for crime generally, in spite of police protestations that things are getting better. They want the death penalty brought back, and believe it will have an impact on crime rates. But it is also clear that they have lost faith in politicians’ promises, and just tune out flowery political speeches.
So, what do they do for fun? They watch sport. They hang out. They drink, smoke, and have sex. At least one in two teenagers drink alcohol. Smoking is common. And when it comes to sex, they start having sex at a younger age than in Nigeria, Namibia, or Zimbabwe. Sex education at school is less likely to happen than in other African countries, based on research we have conducted in all four countries.
With our next election looming, it will be interesting to see what will happen. In spite of their disappointment in the government, many will continue to support the ANC. South Africa used to be split into white and non-white. We are now split into black and non-black. Only the labels have changed. The divide is just as big. The non-blacks now feel disenfranchised, with the government taking little notice of their frustrations and needs. Voting is almost completely along demographic lines, with demographics, rather than policies dictating the fortunes of the political parties. And, even more depressingly, young South Africans feel that there is little trust between blacks and whites, and that the situation is getting worse, not better.
Our youth are tech savvy, and continue to surprise us with their ease in the digital world. They access Facebook from their cellphones, and keep in touch through chat rooms on Mxit. Their phones are an integral part of their lives, and they are adept at getting the best deals when it comes to airtime. They have the time to explore the digital world, and all it has to offer.
But poverty is pervasive, with the majority searching unsuccessfully for a paying job. Their prospects are bleak, and not likely to get better any time soon. It is a depressing reality, but one that must be faced up to.
2 out of 3 know somebody who makes a living out of crime. Think about it. 2 out of 3. Think about the potential for a program in which criminals could be reported to the police, without fear of intimidation. They have largely lost faith in the police, which helps explain why criminals are not being reported. “Nothing happens” is a continual refrain.
But life goes on. Even though they are poor, they are consumers. Fast food is a treat that nearly all of them enjoy. They buy alcohol and cigarettes, and take an interest in fashion, music and celebrity gossip. They watch television, and are sports fans.
Keeping in touch with the mood of young South Africans highlights the challenges that this country faces. We have many mountains to climb. South Africa remains a country that has the best of the best, and the worst of the worst. Keeping a finger on the pulse is a constant reminder of the ugly reality that this country faces. Sorry to be a bit downbeat in this post, but there are times that one has to face up to what the truth is out there, whether it is palatable or not. That’s our job, and we will continue to do it, to the very best of our ability.