South Africa’s 24-hour trend report – 12 April 2020

CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA - APRIL 10: An empty road seen in Cape Town, South Africa, Friday, April 10, 2020 as South Africa continued its 35 days lockdown in an effort to control the spread of the coronavirus. (Photo by Gallo Images/Nardus Engelbrecht)

This is a summary of the trending, highest impact, and most active themes and their narratives related to social cohesion and division in South African public-domain social media conversations.



This conversation narrowed down two core narratives on 11 April.  Although Easter traffic enforcement was mentioned, engagement online focused on a wide array of reported SAPS and SANDF brutality and corruption. Six of the top ten topics for the day by reach related to SAPS or SANDF. All four peaks in volume of conversation on the day were driven by narratives related to the SAPS or SANDF.

Abuse of power

The most vulnerable communities in SA experienced episodes of police and military brutality. One citizen was killed. Some were chased, beaten, and evicted.

Social media was abuzz with uploaded videos of SANDF and SAPS forcing citizens to do frog jumps and rolling on the ground, and beating them mercilessly. In one video police chased alleged lockdown violators, running into them with their vehicle.

In Cape Town, City officials demolished shacks in Khayelitsha. Officials pepper-sprayed activists and citizens who protested. Activists claim forced evictions are unlawful during the lockdown while the city maintains demolition is in line with court orders against illegal occupation.

Residents of Alexandra witnessed a man in his 30s beaten to death by SANDF on Good Friday.

Twitter user @EricWiebols poignantly noted:

“The lockdown will kill more than it saves”.


The enforcement bodies, who should be setting a positive example for the nation, were allegedly responsible for several misdeeds this week.

In Cape Town two police officers were arrested after buying alcohol worth R4,000. A photo surfaced of two unidentified female officers in an unknown location allegedly posing with boxes of confisticated liquor, while cracking open a few cold ones for themselves. An investigation is underway.

Social media users are also reporting police officials shaking down citizens for bribes in Hillbrow. Three officers are suspects in a robbery in Midrand. The suspects were found with money on them immediately after receiving a R10,000 bribe.

In a  statement, SAPS stated, “Such behaviour by any SAPS member is unacceptable and condemned in strongest terms by police management.”


This theme surged in both volume and number of unique contributors over the past 24 hours. Mentions of the alcohol ban increased by 85% on 11 April, when compared to the preceding 24 hours. Response to Bheki Cele’s pronouncement that “alcohol should not be the centre of concern when the world is facing mass deaths” was still the highest trending topic of discussion by the end of 11 April.

Government’s stance

Amid increasing incidents of liquor shop lootings, South Africans have been pleading with the government to lift the liquor ban.

However, the government has mostly been mum on the matter, except SAPS Minister Bheki Cele who has been vocal in his assertion that the alcohol ban has reduced the rate of crime, wishing the ban would remain post lockdown.

When asked again this week, Cele highlighted the death toll in the US and Spain, stating that instead of requesting lifts of the alcohol ban people should get more serious about the situation at hand. He stressed that alcohol cannot and must not be the centre of conversation.

Opposition parties’ stance

Responding to calls to lift the ban on alcohol, the EFF outright rejected the idea stating “there is nothing essential about alcohol and it will only serve a destructive purpose at a time when we all need to practice maximum discipline and self-control”.

The party highlighted  the drop in violent crime rate from the ban. They also highlighted the sale of alcohol would strain the healthcare system in a time when it’s needed most.

The ACDP also supported the call for a continued ban while attacking the DA: “The DA should be condemning the lawless and criminal behaviour of those looting liquor stores, not looking for an excuse to condone it.”

The DA has made no official statement on the issue yet.

Public option

As more officials are correlating the  alcohol with reduced crime rates, the public are starting to question the accuracy and the agenda behind these claims. Many cite the restriction of movement and increased police presence as the reasons behind the drop.

South Africans also seem to be getting creative in an attempt to circumvent the lockdown ban. Google searches for “alcohol ban in South Africa” spiked 500% with the top hits being “where to get alcohol during lockdown”, “homemade alcohol” and “how to make alcohol at home”.

Some people highlight that the ban is fuelling illicit trade, others fully support the ban, citing lower crime rates and better immune systems.


This is an ongoing theme of conversation, both on South African social media in general and within the Covid-19 conversation. Two specific incidents, the shooting of a police officer and the rape of an 18-year old, were identified as the co-drivers for the 2 peaks in volume of total conversation.

Consequences of lockdown

As the lockdown is extended, concerns about the impact of isolation and confinement on Gender-Based Violence grow.

The initial conversation was marked by disgust and shock as the general public became more acutely aware of the situation. The content of this narrative has now shifted somewhat.

Statements by NGOs and other organisation, calls to flatten the curve of partner violence and the issue receiving attention from members of parliament have served as a baseline for the narrative.

Over the last 48 hours, however, we have seen an increase in nuanced conversation (for example; absentee fathers forced to face their own realities in lockdown with their families), and divided opinions about whether the alcohol ban serves to increase or decrease violence at home.

Law enforcement efforts

The reports of and reactions to the murder of a Sandton police constable on the evening of 9 April were the main drivers for this conversation on 11 April.

Sentiment towards this event from the social media public was sadness and support for the constable’s family.

This story did, however, spark a number of questions and debates.

Several individuals used the incident to highlight the loss of control and extreme danger posed by an angry partner. Others used the narrative to highlight the high number of cases that are not tended to end in the assault or murder of a civilian.

Relocation camp rape

There has been growing public concern about the relocation and quarantine or detention of civilians in camps during the lockdown period – both online and from on-the-ground organisations and NGOs.

This concern was validated, to some extent, with the widely reported rape allegation at the Strandfontein Relocation Camp.

An 18-year-old victim was moved to the camp as part of the City of Cape Town’s de-densification programme. One suspect, who was also residing in the camp, has been arrested.

This incident ignited outrage and calls for action from South African social media. DM

Issued by the Centre for Analytics and Behavioural Change.

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A deep analysis on any of these issues is available on request.

About CABC

The Centre for Analytics and Behavioural Change (CABC) is a non-profit organisation based at UCTs Graduate School of Business and incubated by the Allan Gray Centre for Values-Based Leadership. It was established to track and counter mis- and disinformation, fake news and divisive and polarising rhetoric that is promulgated online to undermine social cohesion, democratic integrity, and the stability of nation states.

For media enquiries, please contact Praveen Naidoo, [email protected], 082-299-1368


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