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Key findings
  • More than three in four South Africans (77%) say they are “somewhat” or “very” well informed about the COVID-19 pandemic and efforts to combat it.
  • One in five South Africans (19%) report that someone in their household became ill with COVID-19, while more than a third (34%) of households have temporarily or permanently lost a major income source since the onset of the pandemic.
  • Nearly two-thirds (64%) of South Africans found it difficult to comply with lockdown and curfew restrictions. Despite this, four in five citizens (80%) believe that these measures were necessary to curb the spread of the virus.
  • Most South Africans (72%) also support the school closures, though just as many (73%) believe the schools should have reopened sooner.
  • Three in 10 citizens (30%) say their household received pandemic-related government assistance. Twice as many (60%) say assistance was distributed unfairly.
  • Almost two-thirds (64%) of South Africans approve of the government’s performance in managing the response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and almost eight in 10 (78%) say the government has done a good job of keeping the public informed.
  • Fewer than three in 10 South Africans (28%) say they trust the government “somewhat” or “a lot” to ensure that COVID-19 vaccines are safe
  • And fewer than half (43%) say they are “somewhat” or “very” likely to try to get vaccinated.
  • Close to half (47%) of citizens believe that prayer is more effective than a vaccine in preventing COVID-19 infection.

The first confirmed case of COVID-19 in South Africa was identified on 5 March 2020. Since then, the country has recorded more than 2.3 million cases and at least 70,018 deaths related to the disease (National Institute for Communicable Diseases, 2021), although the real death toll could be more than twice as high (News24, 2021).

The government instituted one of the world’s strictest national lockdowns at the end of March 2020 to limit the spread of the disease, placing severe restrictions on movement, schooling, and trade (Abdool Karim, 2020). By the end of 2020, the economy had contracted by 7%, and the unemployment rate had grown to 32.5% (Smit, 2021; Statistics South Africa, 2021).

As of 26 July 2021, more than 6.6 million South Africans had received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, with eligibility extended to anyone over the age of 35 (Department of Health, 2021). At the same time, a third wave of COVID-19 is sweeping the country. Thousands of new cases and hundreds of deaths are identified each day.

Against this background, how do ordinary South Africans perceive the pandemic, the lockdown, and COVID-19 vaccines?

Findings from a new Afrobarometer survey show that South Africans consider themselves well-informed about COVID-19, and they are broadly supportive of the lockdown and school closures as necessary steps. But South Africans have struggled to comply with lockdown restrictions, and they believe that resources needed for the pandemic response were misappropriated by corrupt government officials.

Most South Africans do not trust the government to ensure that COVID-19 vaccines are safe, and a majority say they are unlikely to try to get vaccinated. Nearly half of respondents believe prayer is more effective at preventing COVID-19 transmission than a vaccine.

For policy makers and civil society, these findings suggest that a successful vaccination campaign will require greater public awareness of the benefits of accepting approved COVID-19 vaccines, and they point to a need for greater accountability in the use of pandemic-related resources.

Mikhail Moosa

Mikhail Moosa is a researcher.

Asafika Mpako

Asafika is the communications coordinator for Southern Africa

Jamy Felton

Jamy is the head of data management at Afrobarometer