With broad agreement across party lines, two-thirds of South Africans say that postponing elections or limiting campaigning is justified during a health emergency like the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a new Afrobarometer survey.

Majorities also endorse media censorship and the use of police and security forces to enforce public health mandates as justified steps during a pandemic.

The survey also found widespread support for the national lockdown as a necessary measure to limit the spread of COVID-19, although most citizens found it difficult to comply with the regulations.

Public opinion regarding postponing elections seems to endorse the Electoral Commission’s decision to delay local government elections from October to February 2022. The move, recommended by former Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke, must still be approved by the Electoral Court.

  • Key findings
    Fewer than three in 10 South Africans (28%) say they trust the government “somewhat” or “a lot” to ensure the safety of COVID-19 vaccines. Seven in 10 express “just a little” (27%) or no trust at all (43%) (Figure 1).
  • A majority (54%) of citizens say they are “somewhat unlikely” (12%) or “very unlikely” (42%) to try to get vaccinated against COVID-19 (Figure 2).
  • Older South Africans, those with no formal education, men, and rural residents express a greater inclination to receive a COVID-19 shot than younger, more educated, female, and urban citizens (Figure 3).
  • Almost half (47%) of citizens believe that prayer is more effective than a vaccine in preventing COVID-19 infection. Only a quarter (25%) believe vaccines are more effective (Figure 4).

Afrobarometer surveys

Afrobarometer is a pan-African, non-partisan survey research network that provides reliable data on African experiences and evaluations of democracy, governance, and quality of life. Seven rounds of surveys were conducted in up to 38 countries between 1999 and 2018. Round 8 surveys (2019/2021) cover 34 countries. Afrobarometer conducts face-to-face interviews in the language of the respondent’s choice with nationally representative samples of 1,200-2,400, which yield country-level results with margins of error of +/-2 to +/-3 percentage points at a 95% confidence level.

The Afrobarometer team in South Africa, led by the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation and Plus 94 Research, interviewed 1,600 adult South Africans in May-June 2021. A sample of this size yields country-level results with a margin of error of +/-2.5 percentage points at a 95% confidence level. Previous surveys were conducted in South Africa in 2000, 2002, 2006, 2008, 2011, 2015, and 2018.

Charts

Figure 1: Limiting democratic rights during pandemic | South Africa| 2021

Respondents were asked: When the country is facing a public health emergency like the COVID-19 pandemic, do you agree or disagree that it is justified for the government to temporarily limit democracy or democratic freedoms by taking the following measures: Censoring media reporting? Using the police and security forces to enforce public health mandates like lockdown orders, mask requirements, or restrictions on public gatherings? Postponing elections or limiting political campaigning?

Figure 2: Postpone elections or limit campaigning | by political party preference | South Africa | 2021

When the country is facing a public health emergency like the COVID-19 pandemic, do you agree or disagree that it is justified for the government to temporarily limit democracy or democratic freedoms by taking the following measures: Postponing elections or limiting political campaigning? (% who “agree” or “strongly agree”) Do you feel close to any particular political party? Which party is that?

Figure 3: Support for lockdown | South Africa | 2021

Respondents were asked: Please tell me whether you agree or disagree with the following statement: Even if the lockdown or curfew has negative impacts on the economy and people’s livelihoods, it was necessary to limit the spread of COVID-19?

Figure 4: Difficulty of complying with lockdown | South Africa | 2021

Respondents were asked: How easy or difficult was it for you and your household to comply with the lockdown or curfew restrictions imposed by the government?