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9 minute read
2 Jul 2020
6:34 pm

Major survey shows how South Africans are coping with lockdown

News24 Wire

According to Ask Afrika's weekly Covid-19 tracker, more than half of people are using savings to stay afloat, and borrowing from friends, family or employers to maintain their livelihoods.

SANDF members help Waterworks residents to carry their food donations in Soweto, Johannesburg, 5 June 2020. Picture: Nigel Sibanda

Since the lifting of the ban on the sale of alcohol on 1 June, South Africans surveyed during the lockdown have expressed concern about the increase in alcohol-related reckless behaviour, research by Ask Afrika has shown.

The biggest concern facing the country remains the fear of contracting Covid-19 (22% of those surveyed).

As the economy reopens, economic opportunities resurface and the prospect of unemployment and a loss of income decreases, thereby bringing some hope to a few respondents.

Concerns about food shortages remain the second biggest concern among respondents.

The ongoing crisis cycle has become a significant threat in the fabric of society – boosting awareness and focus on new hygiene standards.

Amid all of this, reports have indicated there has been a significant increase in crime and violence against women and children, which has been prioritised and has been stamped with a sense of urgency by the Presidency.

Data suggests this social issue has strong ties to alcohol consumption.

At the same time, reckless behaviour is assumed to lead to an increased spread of the virus in our societies.

Ask Africa has been conducting weekly research since the beginning of the coronavirus lockdown on 26 March. The main aim of the research is to understand the socio-economic impact the coronavirus lockdown and the gradual reopening of the economy has on South Africans.

Respondent profile

Over the past 11 weeks, quantitative research has been done using a 10-minute questionnaire administered in English.

A total of 4 898 interviews were conducted and the quota structure aligned with the proportions of the general South African population. The results for week 8 were obtained from 9 to 15 June.

Of the respondents, 73% were black, 13% white, 9% coloured and 5% Indian or Asian. Women made up 55% of respondents and men 45%. The largest represented age group was 25 to 34 (35%) and the second largest 35 to 49 (29%).

Illicit trade in alcohol and tobacco

Three in four respondents feel the ban on alcohol and tobacco products has increased illegal trading in their communities.

The ban on the trade of tobacco in South Africa since the national lockdown in March has caused a furore in society. Consequently people have resorted to engaging in the illicit trade of cigarettes, a practice that has increased since lockdown.

Author of Dirty Tobacco, Telita Snyckers, reveals the illegal trade in cigarettes has increased to 35% in 2019, and 100% of cigarettes sold in lockdown are illicit.

Snyckers further reveals the profitability of this industry shows profit margins four times that of the cocaine trade.

Ask Afrika’s data suggests very few (only 3% of private citizens) financially benefitted from the illegal trade, while Snyckers’ data indicates both multi-nationals and illegal manufacturers are reaping huge economic benefits before and during the lockdown.

According to Ask Afrika’s weekly Covid-19 tracker, 74% of respondents agreed the ban on alcohol and cigarette sales has greatly increased illegal trading within their communities. Half of those who have run out of tobacco products during lockdown bought illegally or were able to obtain these products from family and friends.

However, on the other side of the coin, South Africans display more understanding about the restrictions on tobacco products versus other restrictions such as visits to beauty salons.

Respondents feel the ban on tobacco products is necessary due to the health implications associated with smoking. More than half of South Africans believe the ban on tobacco sales limits the spread of Covid-19.

Citizens are showing slightly more financial security

Since lockdown level 3 came into effect and the economy opened back up, respondents’ financial distress has slightly declined. To ensure further improving citizens’ financial outlook, it will be crucial to implement the necessary business rescue initiatives to enables businesses to grow. It will also be necessary to assist small businesses and informal trade, especially in townships to get back on track.

Although the level 3 guidelines have eased industry-operation restrictions, many people are still not working – 39% of respondents mentioned that they are temporarily not working due to the lockdown, while 36% of breadwinners are temporarily not working. A third of respondents have no means of financial assistance, and one in four have applied for UIF assistance through their employers.

Ubuntu shines strongly, as many people who supported other family members before the lockdown have taken on additional responsibility and support more family members than they did previously.

With financial insecurity still high for the most vulnerable groups, debt education will become increasingly important, as the lockdown has forced two in five citizens to borrow money to stay afloat. The majority of food-insecure respondents, however, had to take a loan from friends, family or a mashonisa (loan shark, 75%), which may further perpetuate the financial difficulty people are facing.

Although strict measures are in place in formal debt, informal debt relief could result in further social distress, especially in already vulnerable communities.

South Africans are savvy with their money and know how to stretch their disposable income. They are willing to cut on non-essentials to get back on track; however, business and government must play their part to ensure that the essentials they do need, are accessible and affordable to all.

More than half of people are using savings to stay afloat, and borrowing from friends, family or employers to maintain their livelihoods.

Traumatised

South Africans are still largely traumatised by the lockdown. Around 20% have adjusted to the “new normal”.

Covid-19 has placed our own lives and livelihoods, and that of those who we love, in jeopardy, which has jolted us out of a state of normal and internal equilibrium and resulted in some form of trauma. This trauma has clearly had an increased effect on the emotional well-being of South Africans, as emotional health remains in flux, with many respondents continuing to show signs of depression and fear despite the lockdown regulations being eased.

Although showing a decline since level 5 and slightly more since level 4, depression (21%), fear (20%) and discouragement (21%) levels remain high.

This state of flux is likely to stay in our lives until the greatest threat of Covid-19 has been reduced and even after this, it will take more than a month of “normalcy” for South Africans to return to their own sense of internal equilibrium.

When the lockdown commenced, people denied that the virus could affect them, and were angered by the guidelines. Today, many respondents are still experiencing a sense of sadness and are discouraged by when the lockdown will end.

Nearly one in five has started accepting the new normal and are adjusting to the future. As South Africans are still moving through the stages of grief and loss, it is important to empathise that every individual grieves differently and will work through the trauma differently. As the results show, many respondents are still in different phases of this process.

With the clear impact of Covid-19 and the subsequent lockdown on South Africans’ emotional well-being, it is crucial to ensure the necessary assistance is freely available to those affected, as this trauma can result in physical illness, substance abuse and reduced productivity.

Government and NGOs should come together to launch campaigns to address this and educate citizens that it is “normal” to feel distress, but that it will pass, and the government and communities are here to assist, Ask Afrika says.

Food security remains a challenge

One in two people remain concerned about the amount of food they have available in their homes.

This is significantly higher among the youth and women. 38% of adults have reduced their portion sizes or reduced their meal frequencies due to a lack of food in the home. Fewer children are going to bed hungry than a few weeks ago, although 17% of respondents still mentioned that children go to bed without food.

Of those who received a food parcel, many were satisfied with the amount of food provided and two in three expect to receive another parcel in the future.

Alcohol availability causes new fear around reckless behaviour

The fear of contracting the virus has increased weekly and has reached levels last seen at the end of April.

The fear of unemployment has dropped sharply with the economy opening up again, giving a glimmer of hope to some.

A new fear regarding reckless behaviour caused by alcohol availability has emerged.

One in two respondents indicated they bought alcohol when the level 3 unbanning of alcohol came into effect. They were satisfied with the variety of products available in liquor stores.

While a quarter of those who ran out of alcoholic products bought or obtained these products during the lockdown, they mainly sourced from friends and family.

Two-thirds of South Africans abstain from drinking; however, stats show that 20% of the general South African population is considered “medium” drinkers, i.e. drinking once a week or two or three times a month. Only 19% indicated they consumed these products with friends and family outside of their direct household during the lockdown.

Alcohol usage remains significantly higher among men.

Trust in political leadership

Every televised address by President Cyril Ramaphosa creates an uptick in his ratings.

Lack of transparency and an agenda in conflict to “working for the people” drive distrust of government ministers among respondents. Ramaphosa still has very high ratings.

The approval ratings are as follows:

  • President Cyril Ramaphosa – 76%
  • Health Minister Zweli Mkhize – 70%
  • Police Minister Bheki Cele – 55%
  • Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma – 56%
  • Trade and Industry Minister Ebrahim Patel – 57%
  • Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga – 45%.

High levels of trust in Ramaphosa persist, and people want regular communication from him, at least once a week or more.

Police brutality, crime and gender-based violence

Trust in the police and South African National Defence Force (SANDF) to keep South Africans safe during the lockdown has halved from lockdown level 5 to level 3.

Nearly half of citizens feel that justice won’t be served to SANDF or police officers who commit acts of brutality on citizens. Citizens strongly disagree that it is within the rights of the police and SANDF members to inflict brutality on others if they do not comply with their demands.

According to the police’s violent crime statistics, violent crimes such as murder, attempted murder and women and child abuse have increased since the beginning of June with the unbanning of alcohol coming into effect.

This is echoed by statistics from the World Health Organisation (WHO), which indicates that one in two of those who committed domestic violence consumed alcohol at the time.

Two in three respondents remain concerned about the increase in domestic and gender-based violence. This is significantly higher among women.

Other findings

Employees are happy to be back at work. They report increased productivity.

There is high emotional resilience among employees in the healthcare environment – higher than seen among professional staff. Nursing staff show the highest levels of adaptability and purposefulness.

South Africans have high levels of personal responsibility and continuous commitment to practising hygiene after the lockdown.

People are very conflicted regarding the opening of schools and childcare centres.

Citizens’ healthy eating habits have increased during the lockdown period and have nearly doubled during the Covid-19 pandemic.

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