During my nearly 3 weeks in South Africa, immersed with people there who know the Enneagram, I asked multiple people and groups, “What Enneagram type is South Africa?” In response, I received a consistent and universal answer: “I don’t know.”
Although this has happened in a few other countries (namely, Korea and Italy), after some thought and careful discussion, people have generally been able to reach some sort of insightful consensus. Not so in South Africa, even though people there are certainly smart and Enneagram-savvy. The discussions, and there were many that occurred, but never got past comments like, “Well, a little of this and a little of that.” Even when people tried to figure it out using the “process of elimination” method: not a 5 because… not a 6 because… there was still no consensus. I would also add that there was less interest in discussing this topic than I have found in other countries.
Why no clear or obvious type? Why less interest in discussing this topic than I’ve experienced in other countries? These questions perplexed me so much that I began to wonder if the answer was beneath the cultural surface: the meta-arrangements within their society. I will try to say this in a way that is clear enough, but also in a manner that doesn’t get me in too much trouble!
I think South Africa may not be just one enneatype. It may be three types – all on the central triangle of the Enneagram: Nine, Six, and Three. Although South Africa is composed of multiple “identity groups,” the three primary ones are Black (the majority), Afrikaans (the first white people who came there, of Dutch descent, and who have their own language), and Whites (the term they use to refer to non-Afrikaans whites, usually people of Irish-English descent). I’ll some share local jokes I heard, only as examples of the respective cultures. As a disclaimer, these are not my jokes (nor do I agree with them), but I use them because humor often reflects aspects of culture.
Black culture: Enneagram Nine
Relaxed, easy-going, extremely friendly, not-time-sensitive, not prone to anxiety
Local joke: “Blacks don’t understand why Whites are always so anxious; Blacks just take a nap under a tree when they feel distressed.”
Afrikaans culture: Enneagram Six
Extreme loyalty to their group, held together by faith and duty, earthy
Local joke: “The Afrikaans complain so frequently that when they are doing well, they just say, ‘I’m doin’ fine; nothin’ to complain about.’”
White culture: Enneagram Three
Competitive, ambitious, forward, asserting
Local joke 1: “When White men peak early in the corporate world and then have little to brag about at social events, they turn to individual competitive sports (cycling is a good example) in which they train, measure success extensively, and then have something to broadcast at social events.”
Local joke 2: “When White women get married, they expect platinum rings because it is more costly than gold. So they should be called ‘platinum diggers’ and not ”gold diggers.'”
In summary, the idea of South Africa being three Enneagram types is a really speculative. But as I thought about it and shared this possibility with people there, the response was that there might be some truth in this: 9, 6, 3. But no one wanted to talk about it very much! Usually when people don’t want to talk about something, it’s because there’s something underneath that needs discussing but is being avoided.
I wondered if the Enneagram symbol could be reflecting some still unresolved and sensitive social dynamics in that country.