This is revealed in the Youth Context Study, a part of the Status of Youth Report that President Jacob Zuma is expected to release soon.
The chapter on social cohesion in the study – which is a project of the National Youth Development Agency – was compiled using data from several local studies.
Government last week hosted a social cohesion summit in Soweto in an attempt to ease tensions in a country haunted by its apartheid past.
The Status of Youth Report found that about 50% of Asians and Indians always socialised with other races, compared with almost 39% of whites and only 13% of blacks.
This was prevalent in all age groups between 16 and 54.
Researchers from the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) reveal that even young people struggle to relate to other race groups.
While young people are widely expected to find it easy to enjoy better relations with other races because they have been brought up in a democracy, their study found this was not the case.
“For the many young people who are stuck with low-quality education – many of whom come from poor backgrounds – it will remain difficult to integrate fully into society and realise their potential,” said Duncan Scott, a researcher in the HSRC’s human and social development unit.
“The same can be said for youth growing up in high-risk environments ...as evidence suggests that young people who are victims of crime are more likely themselves to commit a crime in the future,” Scott said.
He said high-risk environments included problematic families or dangerous neighbourhoods.
Cross-group socialisation is higher in metropolitan areas compared with townships and rural villages.
Black people were willing to share with their fellow white citizens, but the tension between the two groups was “opportunity driven” and not “resistance driven”, according to the study.
But a range of studies discussed at the social cohesion summit this week revealed the biggest stumbling block to building a united South Africa: economic inequalities.
A government study, part of its national strategy for developing an “inclusive and cohesive South African society”, reported that unemployed black people made up 85.7% of the country’s jobless population.
The summit declared “slow economic growth and transformation results in widespread unemployment, poverty, inequality and exclusion based on race, age and gender”.
Scott agreed: “This is to a certain extent exacerbated by low-quality schooling in primary and lower-secondary levels, which is leaving young people without adequate skills to enter the labour market.”
Scott said it might be “unrealistic” to expect total social cohesion within 20 years of becoming a democracy, but increased participation in education and shared living spaces show positive progress.
Arts and Culture Minister Paul Mashatile, whose department is leading nation-building projects, said the socio-economic conditions of poor people still needed attention.
Crime and poor security were also found to hinder social cohesion.
Government’s study found “unsafe communities create fear and distrust among citizens".
Mashatile said government wanted national flags in schools and government departments to promote unity through appreciating national symbols.
More social cohesion and nation-building summits will be convened at provincial, local and community levels in the next 12 months.
Darul Ihsan Media Desk