The week in social media | 27 April - 1 May 2020

Every day we observe, dissect and analyse the news and information driving the conversations around the week’s most topical issues on social media. These are the highlights you should know about.

Cuban healthcare workers in SA to help fight Corona

The arrival of over 200 Cuban medical professionals was widely discussed and debated, and it was the day’s trending topic (Freedom Day 27 April), with many asking why local doctors are not being deployed. Health Minister Dr Mkhize defended the decision, saying South Africa owed a huge debt to Cuba for continuous healthcare support, including training the latest crop of 700 South African students: “I want to assure everyone that the Cuban doctors will not take anyone's place. They will work alongside our doctors.”

Dr Mkhize said National Treasury had now agreed that all frozen posts for doctors would be filled, and asked local doctors to apply.

Trending topics on social media 28 April

Nando’s never disappoints - their Liquideep post drove two of the day’s top three topics by volume, and trended with a burst of 97%.

Sleep in the news -’s article about better quality sleep was the day’s third biggest news story. South Africans care - a request for assistance to locate a missing person was the top post by reach (the appeal was retweeted over 3200 times). Local production – a post celebrating SA crime drama (and Africa’s first Netflix show) Queen Sono was fifth top post by reach. #Mustfall fatigue - @pamela_mtanga’s post criticizing TwitterZA’s #mustfall culture was sixth by reach.

Many South Africans left disappointed with U-turn on Level 4 regulations

The goodwill garnered by President Ramaphosa eroded significantly after the address by Minister Dlamini-Zuma. Many South Africans took to social media to express their frustration, the most common ones being over the continued ban on tobacco sales and the restrictive early morning exercise window (6am -9am). Among the most vocal critics was DA leader John Steenhuisen: “government is demanding enormous economic and civil liberty sacrifices” by copying hard lockdown rules for Level 4”.

Ban on tobacco products continues during Level 4 lockdown

Many South Africans are furious over the continued ban on tobacco sales. The conversations on social media were varied: the EFF’s Dali Mpofu questioned whether the President and his cabinet were in alignment. Others took the opportunity to remind the public of Minister Dlamini-Zuma’s close relationship with alleged illicit tobacco king-pin Adriano Mazzotti. The day after the announcement, The Fair Trade Independent Tobacco Association (FITA) confirmed to the media that they would be consulting with their attorneys and senior legal counsel on an urgent court application.

Illicit cigarette trade

News reporters and social media users voiced concerns about the inefficiency of the ban on tobacco sales, saying the only party winning was the illicit trade. The ban on alcohol and tobacco is costing South Africa R1.5 billion in lost sin tax revenue. Reporter Lindsay Dentlinger tweeted “SARS commissioner Edward Kieswetter says the ban on cigarette sales has cost the revenue service over R300m in the past month.” Journalist and Social Cohesion Advocate, Yusuf Abramjee stated that the ban was impoverishing the nation, enriching criminals and destroying the public’s faith in the lockdown.

Back to school

There was speculation that schools could potentially reopen on 6 May (which had caused many parents and students to respond with mixed emotions). Minister of Basic Education Angie Motskekga then announced that schools may only begin phasing students back in June, with Grade 7 and Grade 12 learners returning first, and it all depends on the readiness of schools to limit exposure to Covid-19. The hashtags #angiemotshekga and #basiceducation received negative sentiment, along with a burst of 100%, indicating that they were widely discussed and criticised throughout the day.

The main driver of the #angiemotshekga spike was a tweet by News24 saying the Minister had asked parents to continue paying school fees during lockdown, and to approach schools directly if they could not afford it.

Level 4 regulations – confusion continues

The day before lockdown Level 4 came into effect, South Africans continued to seek clarification around the new regulations. The fourth trending post by reach was by SAfm Sunrise asking: “Are the new regulations overkill or necessary to save us from Covid-19?”. The question received significant engagement on Twitter, with South Africans questioning the rationale behind the Level 4 regulations. If you’re still unclear about the rules, go to this helpful site that will tell you what is allowed and open on each level:

South African consumers are protected

South Africans should feel vindicated that the Competition Commission has instituted a fine against Matus (dubbed by one media agency as a “greedy face mask dealer”) for R5.9 million for inflating the prices of face masks and other Personal Protective Equipment. Matus must also contribute an additional R5 million to the Solidarity Fund. Narratives about price hikes and unscrupulous business practices resurfaced after this story broke. The telecoms giants were also in the spotlight: MTN agreed to reduce their prices from 1 May following pressure from the competition commission. The 1GB monthly data bundle will be reduced from R149 to R99. While Vodacom will also have to reach an agreement with the regulator on reducing the price of data.

Covid Organics

Madagascar’s herbal remedy - COVID-Organics - is being promoted by the country’s President as an effective preventative treatment against the coronavirus (its effectiveness is still being tested). Some African countries support this remedy and the Minister of Health in Equatorial Guinea and the President of Guinea-Bissau have even collected consignments of it. Many Twitter users are hailing it as African ingenuity, and praising Congolese doctor Jérôme Munyangi (referred to as the originator). Many questioned why this remedy is not being celebrated internationally, with the conversation veering towards the view that “the West” is not open to African traditional remedies.

Some social media users are skeptical and support clinical trials prior to mass roll-out, while supporters point to the numbers in Madagascar as proof (zero deaths and no new cases). The WHO maintains there is no official prevention or cure for the coronavirus, and people must maintain social distancing and follow strict hygiene routines. Check out this website Scare Facts that outlines why the WHO is not approving Covid Organics: