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Around the Jewish World South African Jews Have Adjusted to Post-apartheid State, Study Finds

October 12, 2006
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The South African Jewish community has settled down and accepted the changes brought about by the country’s transformation to democracy in 1994, according to a recent survey. Conducted by the Kaplan Centre for Jewish Studies at the University of Cape Town, the study found that the community now sees its long-term future in South Africa, citing as key factors its emotional attachment to the country and attachments to family, economic growth and religious freedom.

South African President Thabo Mbeki reportedly was “very excited and enthusiastic” about the results. In 2003, as keynote speaker at the South African Jewish Board of Deputies’ centenary conference, Mbeki expressed shock that the Jewish community appeared destined to disappear, and offered its leaders “an open door” to discuss the matter.

Mbeki was referring to a 1998 survey, also carried out by the Kaplan Centre, in which only 44 percent of respondents said they were “very likely” to continue living in South Africa. That figure has now jumped to 79 percent.

Combined with those who were “fairly likely to stay,” the total in 1998 was 71 percent. The recent survey, conducted in 2005 among 1,000 adults in the country’s major Jewish population centers, put the comparable figure at 92 percent. The survey’s margin of error is 3 percent.

“It is a stunning change from 1998,” center director Milton Shain said. “Confidence is especially noticeable among the younger generation.”

Michael Bagraim, national chairman of the Board of Deputies, said the umbrella body had instigated the latest survey because it believed attitudes had shifted considerably.

Since the results were presented to Mbeki, the relationship between the board and the presidential office has “grown by leaps and bounds,” Bagraim said.

Lead researcher Shirley Bruk said the general feeling among interviewees was that the overall situation in South Africa has improved “substantially” since the 1998 survey.

In addition, respondents said they were satisfied with Jewish communal institutions, and they noted a climate of religious tolerance and diversity, Shain said. Anti-Semitism was seen as a minor problem in South Africa, though 73 percent of respondents said it was a major problem elsewhere.

However, 85 percent perceived anti-Zionism as more of an issue in South Africa. Sixty percent of respondents — up from 49 percent in 1998 — agreed with the statement that Israel should “give up some territory in exchange for credible guarantees of peace.”

The community did voice strong concern in areas of wider relevance, including crime, corruption, health care and education. Jewish perceptions of the country’s political stability also have improved, with those who regarded it in a distinctly negative light dropping from 72 percent in 1998 to 31 percent in the recent survey.

“South African Jews, while maintaining a distinctive identity, are very much part of South African society and proud of it,” Shain said.

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