With road rage statistics at horrifying levels in South Africa, increasing numbers of murders committed out of blind rage being reported, and generally increasing levels of aggression and hostility, there is a question of great concern being voiced: “Why are South Africans so angry?”
The answer is that South Africans as a people are under extreme amounts of stress and to top this we have no idea how to deal with it.
South Africa as a nation has faced a diversity of challenges and therefore we live in a country under a unique set of circumstances. The rapid changes that have occurred in the last decade have been exciting but at the same time stressful for all South Africans, as change itself is a well-known stress factor.
Economic uncertainty and pressures certainly contribute to the high levels of stress in South Africa and due to these competitive economic conditions, the typical personality type found in business is Type A. These people are very competitive, as achievement and success are very important to them. They find it very difficult to relax and also to say no to extra work and responsibility. Type A personalities are prone to burnout, heart disease and anger and hostility.
High levels of unemployment and frustrated expectations are also very significant in contributing to anger and stress. According to Thembeni Mhlongo, a psychologist at the University of Venda: “There seems to be a conflict between people’s expectations and what the government can deliver. People’s expectations are not being met, for example, everyday jobs are lost at an alarming rate, even though one hears about job creation.”
Fear and powerlessness caused by high crime levels also contribute to this stress pool. People feel there is no control over crime in the country, which adds to worry and stress levels. This tends to build and can sometimes even culminate in the community taking the law into their own hands. In this way the community members feel they are regaining some control over their own lives, but unfortunately due to the venting of excess unexpressed anger can be taken too far.
There is also the fact that South Africa, being for the most part a modern society, runs by time. There is a lot of time pressure such as getting to work on time, deadlines to meet and overloading of work, due to companies downsizing to cope with economic pressures. People are struggling to balance these demands with those of their families, their partners and their children. Work often encroaches on private time and this leads to mountains of frustration, which is often displaced onto the family, children, friends, strangers, traffic, and even oneself.
This leads to the point that as a general rule most South Africans have no idea how to deal with anger, frustration and stress. So in many cases this anger is misdirected. To vent the anger innocent people are often targeted. According to Johannesburg clinical psychologist, Colinda Linde: “People are ‘trained’ by society (school, parents) to ‘keep anger in’, therefore they tend to either develop physical illness (e.g. endometriosis, ulcers, spastic colons) or depression over time, or have explosive outbursts of anger when the levels build too much. In a corporate world, it is difficult to release anger in the moment and this often results in people using other ways to release their anger, like alcohol, drugging or taking it out on the family. Venting anger in the home is common as this is a ‘safe’ environment as there is often no consequence.”
Another consequence of misdirected anger is road rage. People who are already stressed out and feeling powerless and angry, are provoked by the disregard for the law of many road users. They feel their rights are being infringed upon by someone else, who due to a stretched and ineffective police force, will get away with what they’re doing. This sense of injustice angers people and according to Johannesburg clinical psychologist, Kevin Bolon: “This anger combined with a sense of powerlessness over many things, often is what causes people to be prone to ‘snap’ and focus all their rage on the immediate incident.”
The solution to all of this, according to Colinda Linde, is: “Anger is better out than in, but people must learn to let anger out at the right time, to the right person, for the right reason. Learn to channel unexpressed anger via physical exercise or the uncluttering of a space. Learn assertion, which enables you to express your needs and make it stick; where your rights aren’t violated and neither are the other person’s; where it becomes a win-win situation.”