Seven hundred and fifty days, it is so hard to believe that the country spent just over two years in a National State of Disaster.
Looking back at Sunday, 15 March 2020, to our inaugural family meeting with President Cyril Ramaphosa when a National State of Disaster was declared, life seemed surreal.
At the time, many critics thought this response by government was not warranted. But as COVID-19 rapidly encroached our borders, our communities and eventually our homes and hearts we realised that this was the best decision taken by our government to ensure that we put in place measures to save lives and jobs.
The bold and decisive leadership is not self-proclaimed! This sentiment was shared by the United Nations and the World Health Organisation, with international media also recognising government’s extraordinary response to protect its people with headlines such as “South Africa’s ruthlessly efficient fight against coronavirus”, written by the BBC on 03 April, 2020.
In heeding the persistent call by President Ramaphosa to see beyond the challenges and adversity and to find opportunity, the National Communication Partnership was formed as an immediate response directed by the Government Communication and Information System (GCIS).
COVID-19 was unprecedented, it required a nuanced approach, the consequences were dire, life or death!
The immediate panic that comes with the unknown had already taken grip in South Africa.
Partnerships became the key to unlocking the opportunity we all desperately needed. The ensuing collaboration between government and its social partners saw the development of a Social and Behaviour Change Communication approach.
This helped establish an understanding of our South African realities on the ground. In search for a bespoke communications approach the GCIS commissioned and utilised research from Ask Afrika to track studies to measure the impact of government communication.
In addition a partnership with the Solidarity Fund, it enabled the GCIS to conduct more focused research on the uptake of government messages on preventative measures as well as the vaccination programme.
Communications research was one of the first onsite to provide guidance and insight to navigate our national COVID-19 campaign, designed to save lives and jobs.
Research findings offered guidance to understand the social and public health implications of the pandemic in order to respond to information needs of the public.
The power of partnerships are evidenced by the findings from the close-out Research Report. It shows how our collective efforts translates into improved performance of the government communication system being more responsive to the information needs of South Africans, during the pandemic.
The communications research findings show that citizens were empowered with information that enabled them to take responsibility in the fight against the onslaught of COVID-19.
Government’s interventions and programmes to address the global pandemic was well received by South Africans with almost three quarter (74%) having perceived government positively in the management of the pandemic and vaccination programme (75%).
The positive sentiments are attributed to government communication about the pandemic and free vaccination; positivity rate of the COVID-19 curve flattening; government’s provision of information on how to stay safe during the pandemic and the provision of social relief.
Importantly there is recognition by the public that it is their personal responsibility to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
In ensuring that government messages reached South Africans the majority of citizens (90%) recall messages about protecting oneself against COVID-19 through social distancing, isolation and staying safe. Message recall of wearing a mask (84%) and hand sanitisation (72%) are also amongst the top recalled messages.
Awareness of COVID-19 vaccination communication improved from 55% in 2021 to 87% in 2022. This is as a result of consistent messaging between government and social partners.
Public perception about government’s role in administering vaccines increased from 66% in 2021 to 85% in 2022. This is linked to government securing enough vaccines for all who want to be vaccinated and making sure vaccines are delivered to sites on time.
President Cyril Ramaphosa had steered the country out of the global pandemic and his statesmanship was evidence by South Africans rating the President as the most effective COVID-19 communicator.
The research insights are clear, partnerships forged with a higher purpose of taking the country further on its developmental journey serve as the greatest leverage that we have to accelerate our path of inclusive and shared growth and development to ensure that we heed the call of President Cyril Ramaphosa to “Leave no one behind”.
Author: GCIS Director-General, Phumla Williams