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Key findings
  • About one-quarter (26%) of South Africans say a member of their household became ill with COVID-19 or tested positive for the virus, while 29% say someone in their household lost a job, business, or primary source of income due to the pandemic.
  • Almost six in 10 citizens (57%) say they have been vaccinated against COVID-19.
  • Among those who have not been vaccinated, most say they are “very unlikely” (63%) or “somewhat unlikely” (14%) to do so.
  • A majority (54%) of South Africans say the government has performed “fairly well” or “very well” in managing the response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Nearly six in 10 are also satisfied with the government’s efforts to minimise disruptions to children’s education (57%) and to ensure that health facilities are adequately resourced (56%).
  • More than four in 10 South Africans (43%) think the government is prepared to deal with future public health emergencies, but just as many (45%) disagree.

South Africa confirmed its first case of COVID-19 on 5 March 2020. By 26 March, as the number of cases surged, the country was thrust into an unprecedented nationwide lockdown that placed severe restrictions on movement, trade, and schooling (South African Government News Agency, 2020a, b).

By July, as caseloads surged and ebbed in waves, President Cyril Ramaphosa had called for a probe into the alleged misappropriation of COVID-19 funds by state institutions (Africa News, 2020). In an 18-month inquiry, the Special Investigating Unit found evidence of procurement irregularities, price inflation, political manipulation in the awarding of contracts, and other instances of fraud (Reuters, 2021; Vuk’uzenzele, 2022).

By the end of 2020, the South African economy had been dealt a hard blow, reflected in a 7% drop in gross domestic product and soaring unemployment figures (Smit, 2021; Statistics South Africa, 2021). To assist low-income individuals, the government introduced the COVID- 19 Social Relief of Distress grant, which was recently extended until 2025 (South African Government News Agency, 2023).

As of 30 November 2023, the country had recorded 4,072,575 confirmed COVID-19 cases with 102,595 deaths and had administered more than 41 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine (World Health Organization, 2023).

A 2022 Afrobarometer survey in South Africa shows that three in 10 citizens say their household lost a primary source of income because of the pandemic. While most approve of the government’s COVID-19 response, majorities say that pandemic-related relief assistance was inadequate and distributed unfairly and that “a lot” of the resources intended for the pandemic response were lost to corruption.

A majority of respondents report having been vaccinated against COVID-19, but among those who have not, most say they are unlikely to try to get vaccinated, citing vaccine safety as the main reason for their reluctance.

More than half of South Africans endorse postponing elections and using security forces to enforce public health mandates during a pandemic, but not censoring media reporting. Many doubt whether their government is adequately prepared for future health emergencies, and a majority support investing more in preparations for such crises, even at the cost of other health services

Asafika Mpako

Asafika is the communications coordinator for Southern Africa

Stephen Ndoma

Stephen is the assistant project manager for Southern Africa