The University of Johannesburg’s (UJ) Centre for Social Change (CSC), in partnership with the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) have released summary findings from round 2 of the ongoing COVID-19 Democracy Survey to determine the social and economic impacts of the Coronavirus pandemic, with a particular emphasis on lockdown experiences and attitudes.
The survey went live on a webinar on Wednesday, 19 August 2020 under the theme ‘COVID-19 Democracy Survey: What’s Trust Got To Do With It?‘
The study considered responses from South African adults about levels of awareness and information sources that are being used. The communities were asked if they think the pandemic is being exaggerated, and whether people are prepared to sacrifice some of their human rights in the national fight against the spread of the virus. Amongst the other questions, was the extent to which the public trust the leadership of the President, the police and the army, in managing the situation; the emotions that people are feeling as a result of the lockdown; as well as compliance with lockdown safety regulations, such as wearing a face mask in public.
A first round of data collection was conducted between 13 April and 11 May, mainly during the initial Level 5 period of the national lockdown. A second round of interviewing was initiated on the 8 July, and the first phase of data that we report on below covers the 8-17 July. The data comprise 12,312 respondents for the first round of surveying, and 2,569 respondents for the first phase of our second round. Results are broadly nationally representative, based on an opt-in sample using cellphones or computers, and weighted by race, education and gender to match Stats SA’s demographic data.
Some key findings include:
- Compliance with face mask regulations: 73% of respondents indicated that they ‘always’ wear a face mask when they leave their home. A further 15% say that they wear a mask ‘most of the time’, while a tenth (10%) wear a mask less regularly or never. With the move to Level 2, and the greater burden of responsibility on citizens to stop the spread of Covid-19 through individual actions, the fact that 17% are not always wearing masks is cause for concern and requires constant messaging campaigns. This does not even take into account whether the 73% wearing masks always are in fact wearing them properly.
- Trust in government and other core political institutions is regarded as a critical determining element in effective responses to the COVID-19 crisis. This includes a belief that government has the technical expertise, knowledge and capacity to make fair, effective decisions, as well as confidence in the President himself at the apex of the South African governance system.
- An estimated 61% believe that the President is doing a good job in handling the Coronavirus outbreak. This has fallen from 85% during Round 1 of our survey during the hard lockdown phase. Despite this decline, the percentage providing positive evaluation (61%) exceeds those providing a critical appraisal (13%) by 48 percentage points. So trust is still strongly vested in presidential performance.
- Hunger: This has become an increasing pressing issue in the South African lockdown experience. This theme came through strongly in the survey, with 39% of survey participants personally reporting that they had gone to bed hungry since lockdown, while 29% also indicated that someone else in household had experienced this. This represents only a modest increase relative to Round 1 (38% and 22% respectively).
- Difficulties keeping up with expenses: 81% reported that they were struggling paying for their expenses, given their financial situation under lockdown (66% expressed strong views in this regard). This represents a modest increase in reported difficulty compared to the hard lockdown period, suggesting that the economic consequences of the pandemic continue to hit the pockets of South Africans hard.
- Employment challenges: 12% of participants reported being laid off work and been unable to find new employment since the start of lockdown, while an equivalent share have continued working from home. An equivalent share report that they have kept their job but that their hours or pay are different. A further 16% said they had the same job with unchanged hours and remuneration while, only a modest share (2%) indicated that they were previously employed but managed to secure a job. The largest share (48%) were unemployed before lockdown and remain without a job.
- The decision to re-open schools was one of the more contentious and widely-debated issues during the last two months, and is proving a key point of policy contestation globally. Out data shows that 60% of respondents believed that schools should not re-open this year. By contrast, 13% feel that schools should be open for all grades, while a fifth (21%) maintain that schools should only be open for Grade 7 and Grade 12 learners.
The survey was conducted using the Moya Messenger App, a platform which is similar to WhatsApp and currently used by 4 million people across the country. Approximately 1,6 million people make use of the platform at least every month, and 800 000 of these use it every day. The platform is operated by biNu, which has collaborated with the HSRC on several surveys to date. Anyone with a mobile phone is able to receive and respond to the survey, whether or not they have airtime or data available. For those interested, the survey can be accessed through the Moya Messenger App, directly through https://datafree.hsrc.co/r/ujhsrc.