Business Maverick


Trips to Mars and other dreams: What South Africans asked Google in 2020

Trips to Mars and other dreams: What South Africans asked Google in 2020
(Photo: Pixabay / Simon Steinberger)

Coronavirus, unemployment grants, pineapple beer, Kobe Bryant, Joe Biden, the Premier League, why cornflakes were invented and trips to Mauritius. These are the phrases that caught the imagination of South Africans in 2020, the year of Covid-19.

If anyone wanted to know what occupied the minds of South Africans during lockdown, Google’s latest Year in Search is the place to start.

The report compiles the moments, people, topics, events and places that captured your attention this year, ranging from international stories to hundreds of top 10 lists, from pop culture, lifestyle, sports and music to news from almost 70 countries.

It goes without saying that in South Africa, and around the world, Covid-19 was top of everyone’s mind in 2020, coming in at number one on the trending searches of the year. 

Other trending searches included US election updates, the Sasol share price, Level 3 lockdown, load shedding and the cigarette ban. 

What was clear was that, the pandemic notwithstanding, the love affair South Africans have with sport, celebrities and politics remained unchanged.  

“South Africans are curious,” says Alistair Mokoena, Google SA country director. 

“We are obsessively interested in sport and current affairs. We have a hunger and thirst for knowledge that reveals who we are as a society, and we prefer to look forwards as evidenced by research into new technologies, new skills and holidays.”  

South Africans wanted to know how to apply for an unemployment grant more than anything else. But they also wanted to know who won the US election, what time the president was speaking, how to make hand sanitiser and what is 5G.

The latter may seem surprising, but with 5G networks being switched on around the world, and the US imposing sanctions on 5G technology company Huawei, it’s probably understandable. It also speaks to the fact that in times of crisis, conspiracy theories spread as fast as a virus and it didn’t take long for the fringe element to link 5G to the pandemic.

One of the early versions of the theory maintained it was no coincidence that 5G technology was trialled in Wuhan, where the coronavirus originated. Others claimed the crisis was deliberately created to keep people at home while 5G engineers installed the technology, and that 5G radiation weakened people’s immune systems. 

Whether they believed these claims or not, South Africans turned to the internet to learn more on the subject.

Searches on where vanilla flavouring comes from and why things like chainsaws and cornflakes were invented seem equally baffling. That is, unless you subscribe to social media platform TikTok.

First TikTok had everyone going crazy over vanilla and where it comes from, then its memes had people frantically looking up why chainsaws were invented, which is information you really can’t unsee, and then it had people wondering why cornflakes were invented. It’s not because John Harvey Kellogg believed it was the best, high-fibre breakfast cereal available. Rather, cornflakes were developed as an antidote to sexual desire. Given the taste, it’s perhaps not hard to believe.

South Africans’ fascination with the peccadillos of celebrities was also evident with Katlego Maboe, the Expresso presenter who got involved in a love triangle, topping the list. Nikita Murray, with whom he had the affaire de cœur, was the second most searched celebrity. 

Edwin Sodi, he of the confiscated mansions, Bentleys and Ferraris, gained notoriety when his firm Blackhead Consulting was implicated in the dodgy asbestos contract in Free State.

This was also a year of unexpected deaths and the tragic demise of basketball legend Kobe Bryant had South Africans of all ages researching his life. Other deaths that pulled at our heartstrings included those of kwaito star Mshoza, popular radio host Bob Mabena, Zinzi Mandela and Mary Twala. 

As always, politicians also featured. However, notably absent from the top searches in this field were Donald Trump and Cyril Ramaphosa. Instead, South Africans were more interested in Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, Kim Jong-un and Boris Johnson. 

Appearing at number five was Angie Motshekga, minister of basic education, who had her hands full trying to ensure that the country’s 11.3 million children continued to receive an education during lockdown and, more recently, managing the fallout after two matric papers were leaked.

Ace Magashule, Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams, Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, Andile Lungisa and Bheki Cele were also in the top 10 searches for varying, but mostly unflattering, reasons.

When it comes to food it’s clear that South Africans spent the lockdown making pizza, doughnuts, pineapple beer, banana bread, magwinya (vetkoek) and pornstar martinis.

Through it all, they never gave up on the idea of taking a dream vacation, searching for sunny destinations such as Mauritius, Durban, Thailand, Mozambique and Hawaii. When the going got really tough, they searched for trips to Mars. DM/BM


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