Sowetan: a case study
The role of organisational culture in journalism can be seen in the rise and decline of South Africa’s iconic newspaper the Sowetan
Spaza shop owner Nkosinathi Madlala reads about the death of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela in the Sowetan, 2018 Photo: GULSHAN KHAN / AFP
What is it to be an “African journalist”? Working in African countries can mean operating in challenging conditions, with limited resources and sometimes restrictive political environments. African media have been shaped by their histories – as colonial, revolutionary or post-independence presses, as state broadcasters, as community or development projects. Still, despite its different origins and contexts, African journalism is often seen as a simple variant of the professional journalism of the West, with reporters sharing the same values and practice. The Worlds of Journalism project, for example, a study of more than 1,800 journalists across 22 countries, which was founded in 2010 and which publishes studies of global journalism as well as case studies of journalism in particular countries, has not found significant differences in journalistic cultures in African nations.
In fact, there are more likely to be differences between journalists who work in different mediums (broadcast or print) than variances across ethnicity and nation. Many studies show that there is a sense of “professional identity” among African journalists, but what that identity is, and how it is put into practice, is still open to question. In the mix of factors that shapes journalistic identity, organisational culture is hugely important. Although journalism newsrooms may have similar production processes and routines, individual organisations are shaped by the particular contexts they operate in, and by their internal dynamics, so they develop cultures specific to their workplaces. Journalists learn their trade in their newsrooms, where they are socialised into certain values and practices. The organisation is the matrix through which their journalism is learned and expressed – and shapes the kind of media that is produced, its success and failure. The role of organisational culture can be seen in the rise and fall of Sowetan, a Johannesburg newspaper established in 1981, originally as a community free sheet for the residents of Soweto township.
In the early 1990s it was the most-read daily in South Africa and had enormous influence in the period of transition from apartheid to democracy. Its readers were largely urban black South Africans living in township areas. In its heyday, it became a national newspaper, circulating to towns and rural areas across the land. It is still operating in Johannesburg today, with a much-reduced readership. In the apartheid era, Sowetan was part of a collection of black newspapers owned by white media companies – its editors had to fight management for the autonomy to produce a newspaper that met the political aspirations of its readers. Most Sowetan journalists had worked for predecessor newspapers, the World and the Post, which had been banned by the apartheid state. They were activists in their newsroom and outside it – “cadres with a pen”, as former editor Len Maseko has called them. The conscientisation had come with the rise of Black Consciousness (BC) in the 1970s, when journalists were confronted by activists with the question: are you a journalist first or black first?
By the 1980s, many journalists were members of political movements, and most belonged to the BC union, the Media Workers Association of South Africa (Mwasa). They organised strikes and protests, and experienced harassment, detention and banning. In the late 1980s, under the leadership of editor Aggrey Klaaste, Sowetan launched a community-oriented programme centred on the theme of nation-building; he refocused the newspaper around this philosophy. The newspaper’s vision of a nation-building community, with a leading role for black South Africans as citizens in a greater society, brought it readers and gave a competitive advantage to its owners, the Argus Printing and Publishing Company. The newspaper continued to promote its vision into the 1990s, which made it a player in broader discussions about the new democracy. During the tumult of societal transition, Sowetan experienced a period of organisational stability. The Argus partnered with a new black business as 50/50 owners and kept a hand in the management side of the newspaper.
Circulation remained relatively steady during the 1990s at around 210,000 – the biggest daily in South Africa. Klaaste moved to an overarching role as editor-in-chief so that he could be more involved in the many nation-building projects the newspaper ran, and handed day-to-day editorial management to others. In the 2000s, New Africa Investments Limited (Nail), a black empowerment company close to the ruling party, the African National Congress (ANC), took full control of the paper. The new owners decided to refocus Sowetan to serve more affluent readers. The staff resisted the change, and readers deserted the newspaper in droves. Circulation went from almost 200,000 in 2001 to 118,000 in 2004. In two years, the newspaper lost almost half its readers and Nail put Sowetan up for sale. Sowetan was bought by Johnnic Communications (Johncom), and the company immediately began plans to reposition the publication. Sowetan’s loss of readers had been accompanied by the meteoric rise in circulation for a new tabloid, the Sun, which dealt in crime, witchcraft and scandal.
Johncom planned to go tabloid with Sowetan – to inject more upbeat, lifestyle and celebrity stories, while still keeping some advice and self-help content. Nation building, the market research seemed to show, was associated with the old “freedom-fighting” mentality, whereas the changing readership wanted “funky”, “sexy” copy that reflected the aspirations of individual readers. Many of the journalists resisted. They saw the relaunch as a challenge to Sowetan’s historical responsibility to a black nation-building public, while the incoming executives felt the commercial viability of the paper was at stake. But the conflict after the takeover was not simply a dispute about journalism – it seemed to encompass a range of other workplace issues. Management theory recognises this as organisational culture, which is resistant to change. Edgar Schein, in his book Organizational Culture and Leadership (2010 and later editions), writes that culture is shaped by contextual factors and by the leadership of an organisation, which develops values and practices that become “deep assumptions”.
These continue to operate in an organisation after conditions change, being passed on to new members. Such assumptions can be unexpressed, but shape the behaviour and values of members of the group. In the case of Sowetan, journalistic identity historically had coalesced around activism against apartheid and, under Klaaste, around nation-building. This was not simply opposing apartheid; it also meant sharing in the conditions of the readers through living in the township, through dialogue, and through representing them in a society that oppressed them. The long-time “Sowetans” identified strongly with township culture, a “macro-culture” outside the organisation. Expressing township culture through food, drink, ubuntu practices – conceived of as helping each other in everyday working life – became markers of authenticity. The Johncom managers needed to demonstrate their acceptance of this culture. You could never be an insider unless you ate township street food, drank with the guys at the end of the week, and joined the union, Mwasa. On the other hand, many of the incoming managers, who were perceived as “outsiders”, found the environment “unprofessional”.
The notion of being “professional”, for the newcomers, had to do with having reporting and writing skills – accuracy, well-researched stories, and meeting deadlines. It also meant having the “right attitude”. In most newsrooms, there would be consequences for breaches of professional codes. For Sowetan reporters, the focus was on representing the community. Journalists took pride in being in a newsroom with deep roots in the townships. The work of “building up” the community through reporting and projects was more important than the cold professionalism of the corporate owners, which seemed to lack ubuntu. A dynamic of mistrusting managers went back to the early days of Sowetan. The Argus Company established black readership newspapers for commercial reasons, but invested little by way of resources. Sowetan had run-down offices in an industrial area on the outskirts of the township and received the broken down chairs and second-hand computers from other newsrooms. The hostility towards management had deep roots in a resentment of exploitation. Given this long-held assumption, the proposal by Johncom to reposition as a tabloid was seen as an attempt by a white company to benefit commercially at the expense of the black community.
Editorial staff thus held up the implementation of the redesign. Media expert John Soloski has argued that the unpredictability of the news environment means that journalists have considerable autonomy to make decisions in reporting and processing news, which gives them the power to sabotage the process. In Sowetan, resistance took the form of withdrawing cooperation in the production processes of the newspaper, not attending editorial meetings and actively arguing against the repositioning. Eventually, the newspaper settled into a compromise position, including tabloid elements in the redesign, but retaining some of the old community building elements. The circulation stabilised, and Sowetan continued to attract advertising. It now operates out of offices in Johannesburg city, rather than Soweto, and faces the same uncertainties as other South African newspapers in a changing business environment. The story of the Sowetan supports the idea that there is no universal journalism culture. The attachment of Sowetan journalists to their particular values and practice suggests that forms of journalism evolve in certain contexts to diverge from the professional Anglo-American modes.
Journalists working in different contexts may refer to similar values – such as the public interest and news – but they will also interpret them differently in practice. To understand journalistic identity in Africa, it is important to understand that every media organisation is a powerful space in which specific journalism cultures are forged.
Media: women in the news
Although there are still relatively few women occupying leadership positions in African media organisations, that is changing in countries like Nigeria and Kenya
Funke Osai-Brown Photo: Jayne Augoye
Africa has a perennially poor record on gender issues. From maternal mortality to economic empowerment, the continent is beset by social problems that particularly affect women. Of 20 countries on the lowest rungs of the 2019 Women, Peace and Security Index, published by the Georgetown Institute, for example, 14 are in Africa. The remaining six are in the Middle East. The index measures variables such as women’s security, justice, and inclusion. The latter covers areas as diverse as representation in government, employment, financial access, and education. The gender gap affects all sectors, including media leadership and ownership, according to the African Media Barometer in its analysis of 31 African countries in 2018. From Nigeria to Kenya to South Africa, few female journalists sit in boardrooms. In South Africa, for instance, the number of female reporters has grown in recent years, but only a few occupy editorial and management positions, according to African Media Barometer. But there is a trend: where women step into media management and leadership, they appear to do uniquely well.
In Kenya, Eunice Mathu, the country’s sole female media heavyweight, has managed to keep her magazine, Parents, of which she is founder and editor-in-chief and which started publication in July 1986, on the newsstands for more than three decades. In Ghana, Stella Wilson Agyapong of Oman FM Limited and Edith Dankwa of Business and Financial Times Limited, are the leading lights of the country’s media. They have led some of Nigeria’s most respected media brands for years, according to the Media Ownership Monitor, a study conducted by the Media Foundation for West Africa and Reporters without Borders. In Nigeria, Mo Abudu, a female media entrepreneur, has proved that being a woman can overcome a continent-wide problem of exclusion from the highest levels of media operations. Abudu, 55, runs the West African nation’s biggest entertainment channel, EbonyLife TV, which airs in 49 African countries, as well as in the United Kingdom and the Caribbean. In Nigeria, her achievement is all the more remarkable given that the odds really are not in favour of women running major media corporations. Very few Nigerian female-focused media outfits are led by women.
“The Nigerian media is very patriarchal, there is no gender equality in the media,” notes UK-based Nigerian broadcaster and lawyer Freddie Merriman-Johnson. Recent research conducted by , a leading Nigerian media training and research organisation, confirms that only a few women occupy top editorial positions in the country. Of the 12 newspapers audited, only the New Telegraph newspaper is female led. The origin of the marginalisation of women is traced in a 2019 doctoral thesis, ‘Women in Nigerian News Media: Status, Experiences, and Structure’ by Ganiyat Tijani-Adenle. Nigerian women were significantly absent from the country’s media scene from the onset, according to Tijani-Adenle. She attributes the inferior position of women in the Nigerian news media largely to prevailing gender norms and nepotism. Nonetheless, Nigeria has had its fair share of female media heavyweights over the years. The late Enoh Irukwu was the first woman to read the network news on the radio in the late 1960s and Anike Agbaje-Williams (first female senator, by appointment) was the first female face on TV in Africa in October, 1959.
Other talented broadcasters followed the trail blazed by these two pioneers, who flourished at a time when the broadcast media were largely under strict government control until the then-military government deregulated the industry in the 1990s. It has taken a while, but the more open media environment has increasingly attracted newcomers, and offered new opportunities to practising broadcasters. Abudu’s foray into the Nigerian media scene began in 2006 with the launch of the widely-syndicated talk show Moments with Mo. In the 14 years since then, she has transitioned from a human resource specialist to owning one of Africa’s largest media operations. Abudu began her professional career as a recruitment consultant in 1987. Then she pitched her tent at Exxon Mobile and, after a decade there, established her own firm, Vic Lawrence & Associates Limited, in 2000. More than a decade later, she would become the first woman to launch a pan-African TV channnel, EbonyLife TV. “My time at Mobil prepared me for the task ahead.
It gave me a deeper understanding of the business structures and principles that I still refer to even today,” Abudu told Africa in Fact. The intensive corporate experience also gave her a basis on which to confront the patriarchy of the Nigerian media landscape, she adds. As part of that confrontation, her management team and department heads are all female. Some commentators have attributed her success to her connections to people in the corridors of power. There’s no denying that she is connected; her experience as a human resource expert and trainer with a major international corporation gave her access to high net-worth individuals. Obtaining funding for her own media venture apparently came easier for her. Funke Osai-Brown, publisher of the Lagos-based Luxury Reporter magazine, says there’s little doubt that Abudu’s privileged background and access to high net-worth clients have contributed to her success. “Mo was born in England to privileged parents, attended the best of schools. Then she moved to Nigeria and got a top-paying job at Mobil – though until then, she had never considered a career in human resources,” she told Africa in Fact.
Even so, Osai-Brown, who has twice interviewed Abudu, recognises that other factors have played a role in her achievements. “One thing that stood out is her out is her ability to sell lofty ideas to interested investors,” she says. “That and her sheer determination.” Abudu is pleased to hear this. “It’s funny how people believe I am an overnight success. I have had many doors shut in my face, but one thing I can tell you is that I never give up. Anyone who has followed my career trajectory would agree that I’m not afraid to dream big things. DSTV (Multichoice’s sub-Saharan direct broadcast satellite service) didn’t give me a yes. I took five pilot episodes of Moment with Mo, expecting that it would be accepted. But they accepted only one of those episodes,” she says. In Nigeria, it is a common belief that female journalists have to sacrifice their marriage aspirations to have a career, especially if they aim to become leaders. Do women in Nigerian media find it a challenge to combine marriage with a demanding job? Funke Treasure-Durodola, the first female general manager of Radio Nigeria’s Radio One, thinks so. “Marriage is a limitation for a lot of women in leadership roles in media,” she says.
“The biggest business deals in the country tend to be closed at midnight, anyway. And as a married woman heading a newsroom, or running her own business, for example, you can’t attend meetings with potential investors in certain places where women are not welcome. So, you often can’t combine both responsibilities. One would have to give way for the other. Examples of this abound in Nigeria.” But despite the obstacles, there have been other women pioneers of Nigerian media. Amaka Igwe, who established Lagos-based Top Radio in 2011, was a prominent figure in the media and the Nigerian film industry until her death in 2014. Lola Fani-Kayode, who produced a famous TV soap opera in the mid-1980s called Mirror in the Sun, was another. A more recent success story is Agatha Amata, the managing director of Inside-Out Media Ltd, which launched Lagos-based RAVE TV, of which she is CEO. Chris Ihidero, a Nigerian filmmaker and head writer and editor on MNet’s TV drama Hush, worked closely with the late Igwe. He says that Nigerian women in media have had to be enterprising in facing the many pitfalls they confront.
One element missing until recently has been women’s ownership of media platforms, he says. “I believe Mo’s success story has started a movement,” Ihidero told Africa in Fact. “Women in the media are pushing back the boundaries of what is achievable for them.” Abudu’s career shows that women can aspire not only to have careers in the media, but also to be owners of media operations, he added. Pamela Sittoni, the executive director of Kenya’s Daily Nation, says it is “high time” more women took up senior media leadership positions around the continent. Speaking at Women’s Media Leadership Bootcamp, a five-day training event for female African journalists, held in Kenya in January 2019, Sittoni said: “A woman who is appointed as a managing editor or an editor-in-chief should not be celebrated as the first woman in that role.” Women in such roles should regard their achievements as a matter of their own drive and abilities, not as a rare exception, she told her audience. “This is your time.”
Good Governance Africa (GGA) takes great pleasure in announcing that natural resource economist and policy analyst Dr Ross Harvey will be joining the organisation from 1 May, 2020.
GGA is a research and advocacy non-profit organisation dedicated to improving governance across Africa with a focus on several core areas: natural resources, peace and security, democratic governance and political processes, improving the economic environment, and youth and marginalised/vulnerable groups.
With offices across Africa, GGA’s work is based on exploring and advancing the key governance principles of democracy, accountability and transparency, and combining these with upholding the rule of law and respecting human, civil and property rights.
Ross’s task at GGA is to establish a non-renewable natural resources project (extractive industries) to ensure that the industry becomes genuinely sustainable and contributes to Africa achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Mindful that the priority for most Africans is to find meaningful and sustainable employment, his key objective will be to concentrate on development-orientated governance improvements that connect the extractive industries to green industrialisation, land tenure, clean water, and renewable energy and transport systems.
Ross has been dealing with governance issues in various forms across this sector since 2007. He has a PhD in economics from the University of Cape Town, and his thesis research focused on the political economy of oil and institutional development in Angola and Nigeria.
While completing his PhD, Ross worked as a senior researcher on extractive industries and wildlife governance at the South African Institute of International Affairs (SAIIA), and in May 2019 became an independent conservation consultant.
GGA looks forward to working with Ross and believes he represents a valuable addition to our team.
For more information and interviews, please contact Chris Maroleng on firstname.lastname@example.org
Profile: Mondli Makhanya
Veteran newspaper editor Mondli Makhanya describes himself as an idealist who believes the mainstream media still has the power to bring about change
Mondli Makhanya Photo: Felix Dlangamandla
When Mondli Makhanya says the media landscape is ‘‘tough all around’’, he knows what he is talking about. When he was editor of South Africa’s biggest weekend newspaper, the Sunday Times, from 2004 to 2010, it peaked at a circulation of 504,000. Today, according to statistics for July – September 2019 from the country’s Audit Bureau of Circulations, circulation now stands at 220,857. Makhanya is now editor of another South African Sunday paper, City Press, whose readership is “about 40,000’’, he says. More precisely, 39,172 for the third quarter of 2019. Yet these declining numbers don’t bother Makhanya too much. He is ever the optimist or, as he puts it, an idealist. He believes in the press, in its power to bring about change, “to build a good South Africa’’. “I still believe we play an immense role,’’ he says. “People say [the mainstream media have] gone backwards. I don’t agree with that. I think the mainstream media are still very strong. The weekend press is still very strong. There is still a lot of investigative journalism.’’
Makhanya cites past South African media exposés of impact such as the arms deal [a controversial $4.8 billion military procurement programme Nelson Mandela’s ANC government embarked on in 1999, which has been dogged by allegations of corruption]. As another example of mainstream media’s success in reporting, he said that [former president] Thabo Mbeki would have gotten away with his now-notorious AIDS denialism if South Africa’s media had been weak. In the early 2000s, the former president and his then-health minister, Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, introduced policies “denying citizens life-saving anti-HIV drugs”, according to Time, which reported in 2012 that their policies may have cost 365,000 South African lives, as indicated by a Harvard University study. In recent years, South African media outlets have also submitted former president Jacob Zuma’s association with the Guptas to close scrutiny. Extensive media investigations implicated the former president, with members of this Indian-born family, in large-scale corruption, including the “capture” of state-owned enterprises and government ministers, says Makhanya.
The media were also instrumental in exposing the scandal of Nkandla, which saw elements of Zuma’s private residence built with taxpayers’ money. “It was the media that was at the forefront of exposing [these things]. We are not activists, but we do what we do for good,” Makhanya told Africa in Fact. As a result of such investigations, people in power have learned to “fear the media”, he says. “The phone calls that we get – people pleading, people asking us to see things from their side. I am in the middle of it. I get the calls … the interventions. People take the media very seriously [now].” In countries with robust media, people in positions of responsibility, whether in the state or in business, take care not to attract media attention if they can. “Even if they are going to be doing wrong, they do wrong very carefully,’’ he adds, smiling. However, the future might be different, he warns. “There will be a point where there will not be a physical City Press, [for example]’’ he says. “There was a time when print media treated digital media as a threat because it was taking away our readership. But actually it’s not. Society evolves, humanity progresses.
Once upon a time we all had landlines, and now we have mobile phones. So I think we should not see ourselves as being in the business of newspapers solely. We are in the business of news. News is becoming digital. We must accept that.” Most digital platforms in South Africa are now linked to a newspaper because it is “their natural evolution – the newspaper into the digital space’’, he says. Don’t try to follow Makhanya on social media, though. He’s there somewhere keeping an eye on things, but mostly not under his own name. Google him and his cheeky columns come up, but not much about him. So you might find comments such as: “Jacob Zuma, who would deny that he was stealing even if his hand was caught in a mouse trap while he was trying to help himself to cheese-bait’’ from his column of 22 April, 2019. Or: “So the ANC is going to put qualified people in charge of the country’s affairs and even make sure that they do their jobs. Yhoh!’’ (27 January, 2020). But you won’t read that he spent 10 years in a rural part of South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal province fetching water from the river and wood from the forest and ploughing the land while living with his grandparents.
Nor will you learn that he attended private Catholic schools, first as a primary school boarder and then later St Henry’s Marist College in the KwaZulu-Natal coastal city of Durban. Or that his mother, Thoko Makhanya, now 78, was a UDF activist who has turned her energy to campaigning against genetically-modified foods as a board member of environmental justice NGO Biowatch. One of his few non-journalistic outputs online is a verbatim transcript of his submission to South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) in September 1997. As an executive member of the Forum of Black Journalists (FBJ), Makhanya’s comments included: “The aim of the FBJ is to effect change in the media structure in this country, to equip black journalists to be on the same par as their white counterparts, those of them who are good, obviously’’ – a typical Makhanya jab. You will find a reference to his six month stint at Newsweek in New York after his internship but no detail of his first day in the city where he had two aims: watch every television channel and drink the Budweiser he had seen in the movies and on TV.
So he bought a case of the beer and sat down to surf the channels. After the first Budweiser, he thought he would get used it. He says he “lasted’’ the second one, but couldn’t finish the third. “And I had bought a case. So it’s 24. Don’t judge me, I went and gave my case to a homeless man. The guy couldn’t believe his luck.’’ Makhanya says he loved every second of those six months, which “was the best experience I could ever have. I worked in the research department; it teaches you detail. And also how to get it right, because it’s the tiniest, tiniest stuff [that counts]. Should there be comeback, it’s not the reporter in the field who gets nailed – you, the editor, get nailed.” He never went to Rhodes University in South Africa’s Eastern Cape province to study journalism, as many others did at the time, even though that was originally the plan. He did want to go, but he had also applied for a place on a journalism training course at The Weekly Mail, the forerunner of the Mail & Guardian. “I loved writing, I loved language, I loved politics, I loved history. And I lived in KwaMashu, where we [kids] were on the streets.
I felt that journalism would be the way – I was an idealist – to change the world.” He weighed up the possibilities the next year, 1990, would bring, considering that all the anti-apartheid activists imprisoned after the Rivonia treason trial in 1963-4, except Nelson Mandela, had been released: “Did I want to be in a small town in the Eastern Cape or on a newspaper in Johannesburg?’’ He chose the latter, and never looked back. “It was the best decision ever,’’ Makhanya says. As he had predicted, it would be a pivotal news year, beginning with Mandela’s release on 11 February, 1990. As a trainee he was cheap labour. With few resources on the paper, he was thrown into the deep end, he says. He thought a major historical milestone had been reached when the exiles returned to the country, some after years away, others after decades. “The Joe Slovos, the Chris Hanis and all these gods … The guys I’d left behind in KwaMashu still revered these people, [but for me] that soon dissipated, because I learned they are human beings.
We were asking them tough questions and they were ducking and diving. Being thrown into the deep end, as I was, helped demystify such ideas.’’ He discourages prospective journalists from studying journalism. “I would say study something else.’’ Better than journalism studies, he believes, is to acquire knowledge “of your country and the world’’, especially by reading. “Reading, reading, reading, that’s what I always say.’’ However, he admits that he has been impressed with the recent cohort of journalism graduates from the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg and Stellenbosch University in the Western Cape. And he also believes in staying idealistic. A director of the World Justice Project, Makhanya says he loves it because it’s what he believes in. “I am still an idealist. I believe in a rules-based society. Not rules as in Sharia rules, but constitutional rules. We must be a country that respects laws, a country that respects justice, a society that respects people’s rights, a country that respects equality and that strives for maximum freedoms.
He sings the praises of journalists elsewhere in Africa, which he is known to refer to as “deepest, darkest’’ for the cliched way the continent is often portrayed. “People call us courageous in South Africa for standing up to power, but our colleagues elsewhere on the continent – that is proper courage, because they do their jobs with a lot fewer resources than we do. “A lot of great journalism happens on the continent, which exposes people under very, very harsh conditions, where there could be definite reprisals. There are countries where people have disappeared, have been killed, have been locked up, and where there are laws about insulting the president.” He believes that South African media need to defend every inch of their space, and continue to fund and publish robust reporting. “Exercising our freedoms here – in a way it’s an act of solidarity with colleagues elsewhere on the continent who don’t have the rights we enjoy.’’ Makhanya is honoured to be in the seat of his childhood hero, the late Percy Qoboza, as editor of City Press. “In terms of the circle of my life, it is the last editorship I will have.
I am old and I’ve done [everything I wanted to],’’ he says, growing animated. But there’s nothing old about Makhanya. Not the number of years he has lived, not his appearance, nor his passions and zest for life and for seeking the truth.Though he is a leader in African media, achieving high positions simply for the sake of it does not appeal to him. “When my editorship is over, I would dearly love to do go back to reporting,’’ he says. “We are reporters: that’s what we are.’’
A GGA RESPONSE
Establishing a risk profile of socio-economic vulnerability in South Africa during the COVID-19 pandemic using GGA survey data (2017-2019)
To assist with the emergency response to COVID-19, Good Governance Africa (GGA) has compiled a socio-economic profile of vulnerability of the average South African citizen encountered in our work, based on aggregated data from research that we have undertaken across nine municipalities in five of South Africa’s provinces over the past three years. The aim is to assist government, the private sector and civil society in formulating the best possible socio-economic relief for those whose livelihoods will be most impacted by the lockdown and afterwards. Since the South African government announced the extension of the lockdown, which was deemed necessary to contain the spread of the disease, identify hotspots and “get ahead of the curve”, the economic consequences for all, but particularly the country’s poorest, have become clear.The lived reality of many South Africans who reside in informal settlements means that they are unable to isolate and adhere to quarantine measures. Also, small businesses and informal traders will be unable to operate as they did before the lockdown.
The government has announced an extensive programme of fiscal relief to compensate businesses and individuals for loss of revenue and income over this period and beyond. However, the Department of Small Business Development has said that informal traders would only qualify for relief if they registered with the department and the businesses must be South African-owned. This means that some three million informal workers are likely to fall through the net. As we resume economic activity, there is much uncertainty and fear. Like many African countries, and unlike countries such as Italy hit hard by COVID-19, South Africa has a youthful population. GGA’s research reveals high unemployment across the 18-39 age group, with 18-29-year-olds likely to be dependent on their parents and the elderly for support. Self-employment is high among the middle-age groups. Those individuals are particularly vulnerable to the socio-economic effects of the pandemic because they are not allowed to trade during the lockdown. Women, in particular, are at heightened risk.
Our research suggests that young to middle-aged individuals, especially females, seem to be most at risk of the economic shocks caused by the lockdown and will likely be the first to feel the future impact of the pandemic on the country’s economy. The overwhelming majority of our sample lives on an income of less than R2,299 a month, many of whom are self-employed and unable to operate under the strict lockdown measures. Income grants among the sample are not high, thus many of the participants are not receiving wages if they are unable to work. It is evident from our research that immediate and ongoing support must be provided to those whose livelihoods have been decimated, but who are not recognised in the “formal economy” sector or who fall through the safety net of social grants. In solidarity with the country, GGA is ready, able and willing to offer pro bono support to government, the private sector and civic organisations in this critical “whole of society” response. Read more here: COVID -19 GGA Outcome Doc