The world's most ignorant people

Andrew Donaldson on how SA did in Ipsos Mori's 2016 “Perils of Perception” survey


SOUTH Africa fared poorly in the 2016 “Perils of Perception” survey conducted by UK market researchers Ipsos MORI. Of the 40 countries polled, we were the fourth most ignorant, beaten only by India, China and Taiwan. The Netherlands was the least ignorant.

The release of the “index of ignorance” in mid-December was largely ignored by the local press, possibly because it was the holidays and most of us were resting up after a hellish year.

But the news was picked up, perhaps gleefully, by Zimbabwean media. One headline trumpeted, “Survey finds South Africans among the world’s most ignorant people.” 

It should be borne in mind that Zimbabwe was one of the 156 countries ignored by Ipsos. Perhaps the bar is very low there.

But how, you may ask, was this ignorance calculated?

Participants were asked, among other things, about the population of their country, how happy its citizens are, how much is spent on healthcare, and attitudes towards homosexuality and premarital sex.

On average, South African estimated the current population to be 52 million and expected this to reach 70 million by 2020. They weren’t far off. The current population of 54.96 million is expected to grow to 65.54 million by 2020.

They estimated that 51% of the population consider homosexuality to be morally unacceptable when, in truth, it is 62%. They thought that only 39% reckon premarital sex is taboo, when in fact it is 48%.

They believed a whopping 25% of GDP is spent on healthcare each year, when it’s 9%.

They also guessed that only 38% of their countrymen are happy when, in fact, the figure is 76%. Ignorant we may be, but it seems ignorance is bliss.

Participants were also asked about the size of the Muslim population. South Africans estimated that Muslims comprise 22% of the population and that this will grow to 30% by 2020. In fact, they comprise 1.7% and are expected to reach 1.9% by 2020.

Here at the Mahogany Ridge there was some suggestion that these are peculiar if not actually stupid questions when it comes to gauging ignorance. 

Regulars felt it would be more accurate to analyse the leadership chosen by an electorate. If this were the case then not only would Zimbabwe lose its wallflower status, but it could well find itself at the very bottom of the heap — a sort of Bizarro Cinderella.

An important factor here would be the vulnerability to derision. Making fun of President Robert Mugabe is a risky business, and any Zimbabwean suggesting, as EFF leader Julius Malema did this week, that ‘grandpa’ should step down because he is too decrepit to even ‘control a spade’ could well end up in court. 

The more thin-skinned the leader, it would appear, the thicker the populace. Which brings us to the United States, fifth from the bottom on that index of ignorance.

Any suggestion that the fingers of other men (and indeed many women) are longer than his, or that other presidential inaugurations have drawn larger crowds, and Donald Trump will blow his overcombed top and take to Twitter in a huffing temper tantrum that will be terrific. Totally.

President Jacob Zuma is just as sensitive about being the butt of our jokes. He feels it. He really does. Especially when he gets the picture.

Last year, during his Human Rights Day address, he warned that South Africans should be wary of those who, as News24 helpfully put it, use art “as a form of expression”.

“We should be alert,” Zuma was quoted as saying, “to subtle and disguised racism perpetuated through the stereotyping of individuals or groups of people in the media, through cartoons and satire.”

We’d be here all weekend if we were to chat about the role of stereotypes in satire. But let’s close on an encouraging note.

During a rally at a Limpopo college last weekend Zuma was shouted down with a chant that caught our attention. Every time he bellowed ‘Amandla!’, his disgruntled audience would respond, ‘Dibuka!’ 

Books. Yes, they want books, for such is the scandal that continues to plague the miserable schools in that benighted province. 

It’s dispiriting that children are treated so shabbily. It’s as if the ANC wants them to be ignorant, and is resolutely preparing them for a lifetime of semi-skilled drudgery and resentment at their lot in life.

But this demand for books is revolutionary and dangerous. It should be our new rallying cry. #Dibuka! Books of every stripe and description. Even books in English, language of the dark colonial overlords.

This is the first step up the index of ignorance. This is the key to our liberation.

Amandla? Very much so.

A version of this article first appeared in the Weekend Argus.