Social Indicators Research

, Volume 58, Issue 1–3, pp 267–292 | Cite as

The Role of Quality of Life Surveys in Managing Change in Democratic Transitions: The South African Case

  • Valerie Møller
  • Helga Dickow


The South African Quality of Life Project hastracked subjective well-being, lifesatisfaction and happiness, since the earlyeighties at the national level. In mostdemocratic countries around the globe, theaverage citizen says he or she is satisfiedwith life in general. In South Africa this isnot the case. Since the early 1980s, thetrend study shows up disparities between onesector of the South African population that issatisfied with life in general and variousaspects of life and another sector that is verydissatisfied. Generally, the better-off reporthigher levels of satisfaction and happinessthan the worse-off.The most plausible explanation for the SouthAfrican quality-of-life constellation is thehuge gap in living standards between rich andpoor, a legacy of the apartheid era, whichdiscriminated against blacks and to a lesserextent against Indian and coloured people.Euphoria following on the first democraticelections in April 1994, which registeredequally high aggregate levels of happiness andlife satisfaction among all sectors of thepopulation, was short-lived. Under democracy,expectations ``for a better life for all'’, theelection slogans for the 1994 and 1999 generalelections, has risen. South Africa has one ofthe most enlightened constitutions, whichguarantees basic human rights and supportsadvancement of the previously disadvantaged. Aslong as South Africans perceive barriers toaccessing the material rewards of democracy,they do not see justice has been done.South Africa is currently grappling withproblems common to other societies intransition to democracy. Since 1994, governmentprogrammes and policies have been devised toaddress the critical twin problems of povertyand inequality in society. The latest round ofresearch for the South African Quality of LifeTrends Project probes popular assessments ofthe policies and programmes aimed at improvingthe quality of life of ordinary South Africans.Interviews with a panel of 25 opinion leadersin the run-up to the June 1999 generalelections were followed by a nationallyrepresentative opinion survey in October 1999.The paper outlines the role of socialindicators in monitoring quality of life inSouth Africa and reports findings from theelite and rank-and-file surveys. Generally, thewinners and losers in the new politicaldispensation see changes from a differentperspective. The disadvantaged are more likelyto have seen material gains and recommendincreased delivery of services andopportunities for social mobility. Theadvantaged, who have mainly experiencednon-material or no gains since 1994, are morelikely to be pessimistic about the future. Itis concluded that the groundswell of optimismwill sustain the majority of South Africans whoare still dissatisfied with life until theirdreams of the good life are fulfilled.


Good Life Living Standard Social Mobility African Population Life Project 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2002

Authors and Affiliations

  • Valerie Møller
    • 1
  • Helga Dickow
    • 2
  1. 1.Institute of Social and Economic ResearchRhodes UniversityGrahamstownSouth Africa
  2. 2.Arnold Bergstraesser InstitutFreiburgGermany

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