In fall 1994 South Africa was preparing for its first nonracial, democratic elections. Uncertainty about the future characterized the political and social climate. Would the ANC be capable of governing? What would the conservative white population do? Would Buthulezi's Inkatha Freedom Party participate? Would violence continue? This article examines how, in a situation of maximum uncertainty, optimism or pessimism about the future influenced willingness to protest. Using random samples of Africans (n=1252) and whites (n=600), interviews were conducted in the weeks before the elections. Among African respondents, optimism/pessimism moderated the impact that feelings of relative deprivation, mistrust in government, and perceived lack of influence on government had on the reported intention to participate in militant protest. Concerning moderate collective action, differing expectations for the future only changed the correlation between perceived influence and willingness to participate. Except for dissatisfaction among white respondents, optimism/pessimism affected the correlations for both moderate and militant protest. Among whites, dissatisfaction was not related to preparedness for moderate action, irrespective of expectations for the future. The results are interpreted in terms of social justice and relative deprivation theories.

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