Analysis

South Africa’s 24-hour trend report – 14 April 2020

By Centre for Analytics and Behavioural Change 14 April 2020

Health Minister Zweli Mkhize. (Photo: Gallo Images / Darren Stewart)

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.

Centre for Analytics and Behavioural Change

Mkhize’s Public Engagement 

The conversation around the engagement session peaked between 20:00 and 21:00.

The 10:00 to 11:00 peak was driven by the President’s mandate to Minister Mkhize.

Prof Karim, Minister Mkhize and Engagement Session were 3 of the top 4 topics by volume for the day. Prof Karim and the Engagement Session were the two highest trending topics by the end of the day.

Following the National Command Council Meeting, President Cyril Ramaphosa mandated the Minister of Health, Dr Zweli Mkhize, and Prof Salim Abdool Karim to hold a live public engagement on Zoom on the country’s Covid-19 response.

The Minister provided the latest statistics on the number of people infected and on testing.

Flattening the curve and rapid governmental response to the crisis triggered positive comments: “Dr Zweli Mkhize’s outstanding leadership during this Covid-19 epidemic is a clear sign that when politicians are appointed to government positions based on qualifications and competency rather than political loyalty/affiliation, government may perform better.”

Both the Minister and Prof Karim were called a national treasure in a number of tweets: “This is our national treasure, we need to protect them at all cost.  Professor Salim Abdool Karim and Dr Zweli Mkhize”.

At the end of the briefing one of the reporters asked if Dr Mkhize was actually a medical doctor. This question was picked up by the public and heavily criticised.

Professor Karim provided the nation with a true picture of what the Covid-19 pandemic could mean for SA. His thorough detailing of the situation received exemplary praise from social media.

Radio presenter Ashraf Garda tweeted “Prof Abdool Karim is so articulate, so clear In his delivery and so knowledgeable – together with @DrZweliMkhize South Africans should be proud of the Champion South Africans we have in our midsts”.

Many called him and his presentation brilliant and dubbed him a genius. His “tough love” presentation went over well with most Mzansi agreeing with his call to heed lockdown rules.

@ImraanAkhalwaya’s tweet, which was widely retweeted, sums up national sentiment “What an absolutely brilliant presentation from Prof Karim on #eNCA. We owe our leadership, essential workers and quick-thinking minds huge amounts of credit for their remarkable work thus far in dealing with the #Covid_19 pandemic in South Africa #proudlysouthafrican”

Ramaphosa’s letter to the nation

“President” was the second highest topic by volume for the day.

On 13 April, President Ramaphosa’s letter was the 4th highest topic by reach and 8th highest by impact.

The 10:00 to 11:00 peak in volume was driven by the President’s letter to the nation.

On 13 April President Ramaphosa penned a letter to the nation condemning vandalism of public infrastructure and gender-based violence (GBV) during the lockdown.

Ramaphosa blamed those who have taken advantage of the lockdown to loot, vandalise and burn to the ground several schools around the country for depriving thousands of children of their right to education. Referring to the vandalism of Eskom, the President asserted that “Vandalism of public property and key economic infrastructure will not be tolerated” and called on communities to report such behaviour.

President Ramaphosa acknowledged several incidents of GBV and the increase in these crimes globally. He did not mince his words as he condemned perpetrators of such crimes. The  Interim Steering Committee on Gender-Based Violence and Femicide is working on guidelines and protocols for GBV management during COVID-19. Ramaphosa called for an end to GBV: “We want to see it end, once and for all”.

Snippets from the President’s letter were shared widely across social media and many engaged directly with news outlets reporting on the letters.

The overall sentiment was of distrust. Many said civilians were emulating the recent behaviour of enforcement authorities – an indictment on the SANDF and SAPS.

More people blame vandalism of infrastructure and GBV on the ban on the sale of alcohol and cigarettes.

The President’s letter, while a hot topic all day, fizzled to a 65% burst by end of the day as other events demanded attention, including the Health Minister’s public engagement.

DA’s smart lockdown plan

The smart lockdown plan was the third highest topic by reach for 13 April.

The DA’s proposal was the third most trending topic by the end of the day.

Discussion related to the smart lockdown plan contributed to the second highest topic by Volume.

The DA unveiled its working paper on a smart lockdown plan on various platforms on Monday. The plan included a multi-pronged approach including a load-shedding type model.

DA leader John Steenhuisen aired an online explanation of their plan and further details were rolled out on their website and on twitter by Gwen Ngwenya, DA’s head of policy.

The posts within @GwenNgwenya’s 9 part twitter thread received a total of 238 Retweets by the end of the day.

The public response to the DA’s smart lockdown was divided.

Many felt the DA was using this plan as a publicity stunt, trying to hinder and undermine the government’s efforts instead of augmenting them. Some highlighted how pointers in the plan were similar to what the government already had in works. Others questioned the experts consulted on the development of the plan as none was referenced or mentioned. Finally, Mzansi accused the DA of putting businesses ahead of lives.

On the other side of the fence, people commended the DA for acknowledging that the lockdown was saving lives but killing livelihoods – hunger being the ultimate killer.

Overall there was a sense of apathy towards the DA’s plan with many calling the party irrelevant and out of touch with the times.

Manuel’s AU special envoy appointment

The topic of the AU special envoy was trending with a burst of 72% by the end of 13 April.

The topic of Finance Minister finished the day trending with a 88% burst.

The EFF’s call to reject the appointment contributed to the second highest topic by volume for the day.

Head of the African Union, SA president Cyril Rhamaposa, is seeking a stimulus package for Africa that will include deferred debt and interest payments in the hope of mitigating the devastating socio-economic and political impact that the pandemic will have on the entire continent.

On 12 April, Ramaphosa announced that former SA Finance Minister Trevor Manuel, along with high profile delegates from Rwanda and Nigeria, have been tasked with soliciting the financial support that has been pledged by the G20, the European Union and other international financial institutions.

The Presidency posted the announcement of the four delegates to twitter at around 16:15 on 12 April and mentions relating to special envoys peaked at around 17:00 on twitter.

Following the President’s announcement, 209 people responded to the post with mixed emotions. A few saluted the President, admiring his efforts to ensure a better future for all Africans after the pandemic.

Many other comments allured to Africa’s colonial past and the role of countries in the European Union, saying that as Africans we should try to solve our problems on our own instead of extending begging bowls.

Several tweets mentioned that the US, the UK and France have still not recognised apartheid as a crime against humanity, so the president shouldn’t be so eager to seek help from these countries.

The EFF strongly opposed the appointment of Trevor Manuel as one of the four special envoys, as they believed he was a puppet of white monopoly capital.

Delisile Ngwenya said that Manuel has worked to entrench the power of white monopoly capital.

A post by Mbuyiseni Ndlozi had the 2nd highest impact of 69.3% when he tweeted the SABC story that the EFF has called for Africa to reject Trevor Manuel as one of the four special envoys. Out of the 877,136 followers that he has, he only managed a reach of 40,514 (around 5% of his following)  for the post with zero replies and zero shares/retweets.

Calls for payment relief

Calls for car insurance companies to reduce or freeze premiums contributed to the second highest topic by volume for the day.

An eNCA interview related to property rental payment contributed to the third highest topic by volume for the day.

The topic of car insurance was trending with an 86% burst by the end of the day.

SA banks have announced various forms of financial relief for consumers hard hit by COVID-19, including 3-month payment holidays, which carry hefty interest charges.

For car insurance, it has been argued that payments should cease altogether as people are not driving.  Standard Bank is offering a 25% refund on car payments after lockdown if car payments are met and up to date. In some instances, credit life insurance can kick in as a result of the pandemic.

National government has not offered regulations to assist consumers or retailers in this regard, so this area is still highly contested.  The reality is that these payment holidays and relief measures only benefit customers who are not in arrears.

The national lockdown has caused confusion in the rental property market over tenants’ obligations to pay rent.  

National government has not issued any regulations granting tenants a rental payment holiday for the lockdown period. As a result, both corporate and individual tenants argue for relief or reductions. Relief will only benefit tenants who are not behind in rental payments.

Some of SA’s largest retailers are refusing to pay full rent for April, or seeking reduced payments.  Insurance companies ask that the force majeur clause not be taken up in order not to burden insurance companies on a large scale.

In order to qualify for some form of relief, retailers are required not to retrench staff.

Other trends of the day

News from China

Treatment of Africans living in China

Restrictions on Publication of Research

New Cases of Covid-19 infections reported

Instigating Incident: Growing numbers of videos allegedly showing Chinese nationals, landlords, testing officials and police discriminating against civilians of African descent.

After a trickle of video clips filtered into global and African social media last week, a flurry of accusations and anecdotal reports flooded in over the weekend.

This has prompted diplomats and politicians to seek clarification from their Chinese counterparts. The Chinese Foreign Ministry released a statement promising to improve conditions as a priority.

Although some videos have been proven to be old or completely unrelated, evidence is mounting that the majority of accusations are rooted in truth.

Instigating Incident: China’s announcement of a new policy requiring all academic papers on Covid-19 to be vetted prior to publication.

This decision has done nothing to alleviate the growing animosity and suspicion towards China.

Allegations of message manipulation and forced secrecy feed a number of conspiracies as well as legitimate anger from social media contributors.

Instigating Incident: China reports 108 new coronavirus cases, the largest daily increase in 39 days in the country.

Claims that all new cases are from foreigners entering the country, or expats returning from abroad ,have attracted engagement from South African social media, with accusations of racism and message manipulation.

Update:

Monday’s social media report in Daily Maverick stated that 15,000 signatures had been collected for the petition to lift the ban on cigarette sales. Sean Brodie has pointed out the petition now has over 100,000 signatures. DM

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