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For the last few years, the South African government has been rated on the Edelman Trust Barometer (ETB) as the one least deserving of people’s trust, out of the jurisdictions polled. This year is no different.

The ETB, which measures the level of trust in governments, the media, business and non-governmental organisations (NGOs), is launched each January at the World Economic Forum’s annual gathering in Davos.

This year’s report shows that more than ever, the world is becoming less trusting of these crucial institutions. No institution was seen as both competent and ethical, while only business was seen as competent and only NGOs were seen as ethical.

The cause of this situation, says Edelman, lies in people’s fears about the future. These fears and concerns are driven by violations of the social contract such as corporate malfeasance, government corruption, and fake news. With all of this going on, hope is stifled as long-held assumptions about the benefits of hard work and citizenship have been upended.

Trust dwindling across the globe

Respondents are asked how much they trust the four main institutions to do what is right. The survey polls two broad population groups for their levels of trust: the informed public – those meeting the criteria of age 25-64, college educated, in the top 25% of household income, and having high engagement with media – and the mass population, who represent the vast majority of the global population, or 84%.

Levels of trust are determined on a scale from 0% (least trusting) to 100% (most trusting), and are placed into three bands – distrustful, neutral, and trusting.

As with last year, China is at the top of the list in both population groups, and Russia is similarly at the bottom.

The survey shows clearly that the informed public – wealthier, more educated, and frequent consumers of news – remains far more trusting of every institution than the mass population. In a majority of jurisdictions, less than half of the mass population trust their institutions to do what is right.

In South Africa, however, this trust gap is relatively small at just 5% – far lower than, for instance, the UK (18%), Australia (23%) or Canada (16%) – and is well below the global average of 14%.

Embarrassment continues for SA government

South Africa debuted on the ETB in 2014 with an unimpressive 17% of respondents saying they trusted the government. Things have not improved since those days. This year trust in the South African government dropped another point.

Overall trust in South Africa stands at 44%, well below the global average of 54%. Trust in NGOs in the country dropped one point to 59%, one point about the global average of 58%, and sitting firmly in neutral territory.

In terms of business, South Africa is on a par with the global average of 58%, a position unchanged from last year. In addition, 55% of South African respondents agree with those in 21 other countries that capitalism does more harm than good.

Meanwhile, trust in the media remains low, at 40%, a drop of one point from last year. Traditional media and search engines remain the most highly trusted media channels, with social media unsurprisingly faring poorly.

Trust in South Africa’s government continues to be lowest of all, at just 20%. This puts it in the group of 17 countries where the government is highly distrusted, and in last place by a wide margin. The second-last country in this category, Spain, is a full 10 percentage points ahead.

For more information, download the global report and the executive summary.