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The Journal of Social Psychology, 1984, 122, 163-170.


University of New South Wales and Australian National University



Ninety-five whites living in the Afrikaner city of Bloemfontein, South Africa, were randomly sampled and answered a questionnaire containing scales of Conservatism, Authoritarian attitudes, Authoritarian personality, Self-esteem, Anxiety, Attitude to Blacks, Achievement motivation, Conformity, and Social desirability set. When compared with American respondents to the same items, the Afrikaners were found to be exceedingly conservative but not more authoritarian in personality. They were also very highly achievement motivated. The correlations between the scales revealed that Afrikaner conservatives tended to be ambitious and anti-Black but not especially low in self-esteem, anxious, dishonest, conforming, or authoritarian. Afrikaners with higher scores on authoritarian personality were inclined to be ambitious, nonconforming, better educated, and of high self-esteem. They generally were not particularly racist, conservative, or dishonest. Nationalist (pro-Apartheid) voting was predicted somewhat by achievement motivation but not by conservatism.


There can be little doubt that the popular image of South Africa is of a very conservative country. Yet there are some reasons to doubt the accuracy of this image. South Africans have been shown in surveys of the white population to be less acceptant of the death penalty than several other Western countries (21) and their acceptance of authority has also been shown to be similar to that in other Western countries (17, 19). Some direct check on levels of conservatism among Afrikaners in the Republic seems therefore needed. The results mentioned above on attitude to authority etc. were obtained in Johannesburg, a city dominated by people of English origin. South Africa's dominant white group, however, are the Afrikaners. The complete domination of the Republic's political system by the Afrikaners makes their responses the only ones likely for the moment to have much influence on the course of events in the country. The present research, therefore, was planned to take place in Bloemfontein, the Republic's judicial capital located in the Afrikaner heartland of the Orange Free State. Afrikaans is the home language of something like 90% of white Bloemfonteiners (7).


If the degree of conservatism and authoritarianism among Afrikaners is to be evaluated, some benchmark from other countries is needed to indicate whether the levels observed in Bloemfontein are "high" or "low." This meant that scales of international applicability had to be found. The Ray Directiveness scale (measuring authoritarian personality) and the Ray Balanced F scale [measuring authoritarian attitudes in the Adorno et al. (1) sense] had already seen extensive international use (13, 17, 19, 24). The case of Conservatism is, however, more problematic. The most obvious candidate seems to be the Wilson C scale (26), but it has been shown to have fluctuating levels of validity (16); one of the especially low levels was in fact recorded in South Africa (5). Under the circumstances, a scale recently developed to measure Conservatism among American general population samples was turned to (22). Most of its items at least initially seemed fairly adaptable to South Africa.

The above three scales were therefore included in a battery together with the Ray Attitude to Blacks scale (17, 19), the Ray Achievement Orientation scale (15), the Pettigrew Conformity scale (12), the Bahr and Rosenberg Self-esteem scale (3), the Taylor (25) Manifest anxiety scale, and a short Social Desirability scale (4). This selection of scales enabled some check on what are generally supposed to be correlates of authoritarianism and conservatism. Particular importance was attached to the Self-esteem scale as a measure of global mental health, as it now seems to be becoming increasingly widely accepted that "objective" judgments of mental health are highly arbitrary and culture-bound. This being so, whether a person is himself happy with his personal adjustment becomes the consideration of principal importance rather than someone else's opinion of whether that adjustment is good or bad (2, 3, 10).

All scales were translated into Afrikaans by the junior author, a native Afrikaans speaker. Most of the translations had been tested in earlier surveys and found to stand up well (6, 7, 8). The questionnaire was administered in early 1982 to a small, randomly selected cluster sample of Bloemfontein yielding a final N of 95. Cluster sampling is the method used by most commercial public opinion polls, though sampling in the present case was limited to "white" areas and white respondents. The mean age of the sample was 41 years with an approximately equal balance between the sexes. Mean years of education fell between Standard 8 and Standard 10, where Standard 10 is the South African matriculation level.


As was to be expected, not all the Conservatism items worked as well in South Africa as they had in the U. S. A. After deleting eight items that showed poor or anomalous correlations with the scale total, a 14-item balanced scale remained with a reliability of .73 (alpha). Its mean and standard deviation were 37.20 and 4.14. This mean was two standard deviations above the scale's point of neutrality (as all items in the battery were scored on a three-point scale, this was 28 or 14 x 2). By comparison, the California sample on which the scale was originally constructed obtained a mean score that was less than one SD above the midpoint. It seems clear, then, that the Bloemfonteiners were indeed a very conservative sample. When the original U.S. data were rescored for the "South African" form of the scale only (i.e., with items 3, 5, 6, 12, 14, 15, 17, and 20 deleted), the mean was 31.95 with an SD of 5.52. The difference from the South African mean is significant (p < .O1).

The reliabilities of the other scales in the battery were as follows: Directiveness .72, Achievement Orientation .68, Conformity .70, Social Desirability .50, Balanced F .49, Attitude to Blacks .66, Anxiety .83, Self-esteem .77. The Social Desirability scale was scored to include only those eight items used by Ray (20) and the Directiveness scale was scored for those 14 items found by Heaven (8) to work best with Afrikaners. The Achievement Orientation scale was also used in its 14-item short form (15). The Attitude to Blacks scale had 10 items. Where low reliabilities were observed, therefore, they were in part to be explained by the shortness of the scale concerned. One scale for which this was not so, however, was the BF scale. This was a 20-item derivative of the original BF scale and a reliability of .49 in a scale of such length suggests serious malfunction of the items. As some attempt to salvage something in this situation, an item analysis was therefore carried out, and then items correlating poorly with the scale total were removed in two stages. The result was a nine-item all-positive scale with a reliability of .65. While this may be a workable reliability, the absence of balancing items does of course throw serious doubts on what the scale measures (9, 11, 14, 16).

The only significant correlates of the short Conservatism scale were Achievement Motivation (r = .44) and Attitude to Blacks (.32). This means, then, that conservatives in a Bloemfontein context were ambitious and racist.

The significant correlates of the Directiveness scale were .28 with Achievement Orientation, -.2'7 with Conformity, .30 with Self-esteem, and .29 with Education. People with more authoritarian personalities were therefore ambitious, nonconforming, better-educated, and of high self-esteem. When the Directiveness scale was rescored in the form used in Los Angeles (19), its mean and SD were 29.02 and 5.14. This compares with the Los Angeles result of 29.28 and 5.79. The difference is not significant. The "Los Angeles" form of the scale showed a reliability of .67 in Bloemfontein and .73 in Los Angeles. It would seem, then, that while these South African Afrikaners were indeed very conservative, they were not especially authoritarian.

The significant correlates of the short F scale were .24 with Achievement Orientation, .35 with conformity, .38 with Attitude to Blacks, and -.36 with education. This means that authoritarians in the Adorno et al. sense were ambitious, conforming, racist, and ill-educated; however, as Heaven (9) has shown that acquiescence alone has important correlations in South Africa, these results must be seen as of uncertain interpretation.

The correlates of the Attitude to Blacks scale were .29 with conformity, .32 with Conservatism, and .38 with the F scale. Bloemfonteiners with especially negative attitudes towards blacks, therefore, were conforming, conservative, and authoritarian by Adorno et al. criteria; however, they did not have especially authoritarian personalities as indexed by the Directiveness scale and did not get especially adverse scores on the mental health indices. When the data from the random doorstep sample conducted in Los Angeles (19) were scored for the above "South African" form of the Attitude to Blacks scale, the mean and SD were 18.05 and 4.71. This compares with Bloemfontein statistics of 22.44 and 3.86. The Bloemfonteiners did, then, have significantly more negative attitudes towards blacks. The Los Angeles sample had attitudes that were overall slightly positive, whereas the Bloemfontein sample had attitudes that were overall slightly negative. This can most clearly be seen if it is kept in mind that the possible range of scores on the scale was from 10 to 30 with a midpoint of 20.

The mean score of the Bloemfonteiners on the Achievement Orientation scale was 37.43 (SD 4.07). This is the highest community-wide mean yet recorded (23, 24), with the Johannesburg sample (17) being second. Afrikaner South Africans are, then, even more materially ambitious than English-origin South Africans.

The Bloemfontein mean on Social Desirability responding was 19.01 (SD 3.00). This is also a very high score by world standards (23, 24) so it is fortunate that the scale had no significant correlates. The high scores on this attribute, therefore, cannot have affected the other results obtained in the survey.

A remaining matter was the political party preferences of the sample. This information was gathered and scored as follows: Nasionale = 3; Herstigte Nasionale = 4; Progressiewe Federale = 1; Nuwe Republiek = 2. This is a Right-Left continuum with the Nuwe Republiek being the centrist party. To preserve the Right-left continuum, respondents who had no political preference were also scored 2. The mean score of 2.8 indicates substantial support for the Nationalist (pro-Apartheid) parties and is in line with the generally Afrikaner base of support. The significant correlates of voting preference were Achievement motivation (r = .27), Conformity (.21), and age (-.24). This meant that Nationalists were ambitious, conforming, and older. They were not particularly conservative.

Although there may have been a few respondents in the sample who were not of predominantly Afrikaner origin, no deletions from the sample were made on that or any other basis.


That white South Africans are very ambitious but not especially authoritarian has now been confirmed for both the Afrikaner and the English-speaking sections of the population. This bears out Ray's finding (18) of partial substitutability between these two variables. South African whites, through their votes, support very authoritarian institutional arrangements in their country, but apparently they are not highly authoritarian in personality. The exceptional status of the white South African population on achievement motivation suggests that the whites support authoritarian arrangements not because they personally have a love of dominance but for instrumental reasons, to enable themselves to attain the "good life."

The one vaguely psychopathological correlate of the three central variables in the study (authoritarianism, conservatism, and racism) was a .29 correlation with conformity observed for the Ethnocentrism scale. The more conservative respondents were not found therefore to be more anxious, more conforming, more dishonest, more authoritarian (in any sense), older, less well-educated, or low in self-esteem. These negative results appear to run contrary to the Adorno et al. (1) account of things. This is also true if we look explicitly at attitude to blacks. Those in the present sample with especially negative attitudes towards blacks were not thereby more likely to be more anxious, more dishonest, more authoritarian in personality, older, less well-educated, or low in self-esteem. One must conclude again that the Adorno et al. account of the etiology of racism is totally inapplicable to South Africa. Other explanations (e.g., economic ones) must be turned to.

One of the puzzles re-emphasized by the present findings is why white South Africans have such high levels of achievement motivation. Other affluent populations tend to have low scores on this variable (23, 24). Perhaps the threat of being surrounded by large numbers of oppressed blacks leads to high anxiety and this, in turn, leads to high motivation generally. Unfortunately for this explanation, however, the anxiety scale and the achievement motivation scale in the present study showed no significant correlation. Another possible explanation might be that the prominent role of gold and diamond mining in South African history might have something to do with the relentless pursuit of wealth. Unfortunately for this explanation, however, gold and diamond mining was very much the preserve of the English-origin community. The relatively contemptuous attitude of the Afrikaner republics towards mining and miners in fact led to the Boer war. We would therefore have to expect that any tradition originating from mining would be much weaker among Afrikaners. Achievement motivation, however, is in fact stronger among Afrikaners.

The best possible unifying explanation for the cross-national variations in achievement motivation so far observed may then involve a focus on degree of competition for wealth prevailing in any given society. One's desires for wealth increase with the increase in the numbers of people seeking it or if others seem likely to markedly outdo one in obtaining it. India and The Philippines are highly ambitious societies because sheer poverty makes the competition for wealth of obsessive importance. South African whites are highly ambitious because of the traditional dislike and rivalry between the Afrikaner and English-origin communities. The Afrikaners have a history of being poor farmers when compared with the affluence of the urban and business-oriented Anglo-Saxons; hence, determination to "show them" may lead Afrikaners to try harder to achieve the wealth that they originally lacked. The Anglo-Saxons, on the other hand, perceive the Afrikaner challenge and may be equally determined not to let the formerly despised "Boers" outdo them. Ethnic rivalry has led to economic competition. In a word, material achievement may be valued both for its intrinsic (food-in-the-belly) and its symbolic (token of ethnic superiority) value.


1. ADORNO, T. W., FRENKEL-BRUNSWIK, E., LEVINSON, D. J., & SANFORD, R. N. The Authoritarian Personality. New York: Harper, 1950.

2. ANTILL, J. K., & CUNNINGHAM, J. D. The relationship of masculinity, femininity, and androgyny to self-esteem. Austral. J. Psychol., 1980, 32, 195-207.

3. BAHR, H. M., & CAPLOW, T. Old Men Drunk and Sober. New York: New York Univ. Press, 1973.

4. GREENALD, H. J., & SATOW, Y. A short social desirability scale. Psychol. Rep., 1970, 27, 131-135.

5. HEAVEN, P. C. L. The internal consistency of Wilson's Conservatism scale. J. Soc. Psychol., 1979, 109, 143-144.

6. HEAVEN, P. C. L. Authoritarianism: South African Studies. Bloemfontein, S. Africa: De Villiers, 1980.

7. HEAVEN, P. C. L. Authoritarianism among Afrikaners. Ethnic & Racial Stud., 1982, 5, 229

8. HEAVEN, P. C. L. Measuring authoritarianism by behavior inventory among Afrikaners. S. African J. Psychol., 1982, 12, 88-89.

9. HEAVEN, P. C. L. Authoritarianism or acquiescence? South African findings. J. Soc. Psychol., 1982, 119, 11-15.

10. ORPEN, C. A cross-cultural investigation of the relationship between conservatism and personality. J. of Psychol., 1972, 81, 297-300.

11. PEABODY, D. Authoritarianism scales and response bias. Psychol. Bull., 1966, 65, 11-23.

12. PETTIGREW, T. F. Personality and sociocultural factors in intergroup attitudes: A cross-national comparison. J. Conflict Resolut., 1958, 1, 29-49.

13. RAY, J.J. (1976) Do authoritarians hold authoritarian attitudes? Human Relations, 29, 307-325.

14. RAY, J.J. (1979a) Is the acquiescent response style not so mythical after all? Some results from a successful balanced F scale. Journal of Personality Assessment 43, 638-643.

15. RAY, J.J. (1979b) A quick measure of achievement motivation -- validated in Australia and reliable in Britain and South Africa. Australian Psychologist 14, 337-344.

16. RAY, J.J. (1980a) Acquiescence and the Wilson Conservatism scale. Personality & Individual Differences, 1, 303-305.

17. RAY, J.J. (1980b) Racism and authoritarianism among white South Africans. Journal of Social Psychology, 110, 29-37.

18. RAY, J.J. (1980c) Achievement motivation as an explanation of authoritarian behaviour: Data from Australia, South Africa California, England and Scotland. Chapter in: P.C.L. Heaven (Ed.) Authoritarianism: South African studies Bloemfontein: De Villiers.

19. RAY, J.J. (1980d) Authoritarianism in California 30 years later -- with some cross-cultural comparisons. Journal of Social Psychology, 111, 9-17.

20. RAY, J.J. (1981) Do authoritarian attitudes or authoritarian personality reflect mental illness? S. African J. Psychology 11, 153-157.

21. RAY, J.J. (1982) Attitude to the death penalty in South Africa -- with some international comparisons. Journal of Social Psychology, 116, 287-288.

22. RAY, J.J. (1983a) A scale to measure conservatism of American public opinion. Journal of Social Psychology 119, 293-294.

23. RAY, J.J. (1983b) Ambition and dominance among the Parsees of India. Journal of Social Psychology 119, 173-179.

24. RAY, J.J. & Kiefl, W. (1984) Authoritarianism and achievement motivation in contemporary West Germany. Journal of Social Psychology, 122, 3-19.

25. TAYLOR, J. A. A personality scale of manifest anxiety. J. Abn. & Soc. Psychol., 1953, 48, 285-2 90.

26. WILSON, G. D. The Psychology of Conservatism. London: Academic, 1973.

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