World

In South Africa, High Level of Confidence in Judiciary

by Magali Rheault and Bob Tortora

80% trust courts and judges to be independent from outside pressure

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Thabo Mbeki recently stepped down as president of South Africa after the ruling African National Congress (ANC) called for the leader's resignation. Leading up to the ANC's decision to remove the president were allegations from a high court judge that Mbeki had interfered in a corruption and fraud case involving Jacob Zuma, ANC's current president and a likely candidate in the country's presidential elections next year. Against this backdrop of allegations of executive interference, Gallup Poll findings, which predate these events, show that a strong majority of South Africans express confidence in their judiciary.

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South Africans' confidence in their country's judicial system and courts is well above the median of 53% for 32 countries in sub-Saharan Africa. Public confidence in this institution ranges from a low of 15% in Chad to a high of 92% in Rwanda. Gallup conducted the poll between July and September 2007 during much political activity in South Africa as the ANC was in the process of choosing its president. In December, the ANC selected Zuma.

Regarding the independence of the judiciary, 80% of South Africans told Gallup they trusted the Supreme Court and judges to be autonomous in their decisions, one of the highest levels observed across 27 sub-Saharan African countries. Public trust that the judiciary does not act under pressure from other powers ranges from a low of 17% in Chad to highs of 76% in Malawi, 79% in Tanzania, and 81% in Namibia (these three are statistically similar when the margin of error of ±5 percentage points is taken into account).

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The Gallup Poll also finds that 66% of South Africans, at least at the time of the survey, expressed confidence in the national government. But the 89% who perceive corruption in their government to be widespread is far higher than the median of 74% calculated across 32 countries in sub-Saharan Africa. Within the region, the percentages of residents who perceived corruption as widespread in government range from a low of 22% in Rwanda to highs of 90% in Zambia, 91% in Mali and Cameroon, and 94% in Zimbabwe.

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Bottom Line

While the Gallup Poll results predate the allegations of executive influence on judges working on Zuma's case, most South Africans do express trust in their judiciary. Such a high level of public confidence represents an important element to anchoring the rule of law. At the same time, perceptions of widespread corruption in government are high.

But under the allegations of executive power impropriety lie the power struggle between Mbeki and Zuma that eventually led to the current political turmoil in Africa's economic powerhouse. Political stability is necessary to keep the country's economy on track, especially in light of the current international financial crisis. Stability is also necessary to building strong, independent national institutions. Gallup's continuous annual surveys will gauge whether South Africans think their country is moving in this direction.

Survey Methods

Results are based on face-to-face interviews with 1,000 adults, aged 15 and older, in South Africa in July-September 2007. The sub-Saharan African median scores are based on national samples, in most countries, of at least 1,000 adults, aged 15 and older, conducted in 2006 and 2007 in Angola (urban areas only), Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad (excludes eastern region), Democratic Republic of the Congo (urban areas only), Ethiopia, Ghana, Guinea, Kenya, Liberia, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Sudan (excludes Darfur and parts of the South, around Juba and Nimule), Tanzania, Togo, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±5 percentage points. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

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