The South African population’s trust in its government, media and business, is in steady decline, according to the 2017 Edelman Trust Barometer, which was released on Wednesday.
The barometer, which measures peoples’ trust in four institutions – government, media, business and nongovernmental organisations (NGOs) – has revealed that above-average levels of fear about corruption, immigration and the erosion of social values are having an impact on the way South Africans perceive their country.
Unpacking the results of the global survey, in Johannesburg, Edelman South Africa MD Jordan Rittenberry said the South African government is the least trusted by its people out of all countries surveyed, with only 15% of citizens affirming their trust.
“This was the lowest score out of 28 countries surveyed, with the global average coming in at 41%,” he pointed out.
Globally, trust in the media is at 43%, while trust in the media in South Africa dropped to 39% in 2017, from 45% in 2016.
“Traditional media saw a decline from 60% in 2016 to 56% this year and it’s concerning to note that there was an increase in trust in search engines from 66% in 2016 to 69% in 2017. This means that South Africans would rather search for news on Google than on accredited news websites,” Rittenberry noted.
He pointed out that CEO credibility in South Africa dropped sharply from 68% last year to 52% this year, which means that CEOs are on the brink of distrust as a score below 50% is deemed to be generally distrustful.
The barometer shows that business leaders need to play a more active role in society. Seventy-eight per cent of South African respondents agreed that a company can take specific actions that both increase profits and improve the economic and social conditions in the communities in which they operate.
CEOs should also be transparent and give customers a platform to interact with them and their companies as 69% of the general South African population said that listening to customers builds trust in a company.
He noted that one-half of the countries surveyed said the system was failing and that two-thirds of them now fall into the category of “distrusters” with under 50% trust in mainstream institutions.
“In South Africa, the barometer showed that trust has declined, with 56% of respondents trusting business, 39% trusting the media and 15% trusting government.”
NGOs provided the only stable sector with trust levels remaining at 58%.
“Globally, populist movements are being fuelled by a lack of trust in the system, as well as economic and societal fears, including corruption, immigration, globalisation, eroding social values and the pace of innovation,” he noted.
Countries in which a lack of faith in the system is combined with deep fears, such as the US, the UK and South Africa, are the ones experiencing a rapid growth in populism, he added.
The barometer also revealed that peers are now considered to be as credible as experts, indicating that facts matter less.
In South Africa, 70% of people now consider like-minded people to be on a par with technical and academic experts.
“Nearly two-thirds found financial analysts to be credible, 52% found CEOs to be credible and only 20% found government officials to be credible,” he said.
Edelman has been measuring trust in the four main institutions since 2001 and South Africa has been included in the global survey every year since 2014.