The week in social media | 11 May - 16 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.

The tobacco debate isn’t going away

More information was revealed about the government’s U-turn on the sale of tobacco and alcohol during Level 4 lockdown.@SundayTimesZA tweeted a link to an article which was retweeted 90 times. The article explains how the National Command Council came to the decision to continue the tobacco ban during level 4.

Tito Mboweni stated that he was opposed to the continued ban while ministers Aaron Motsoaledi, Bheki Cele and Zweli Mkhize opposed the sale of tobacco.

Some responders to the Sunday Times tweet expressed their distrust of Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma as head of the NCCC and raised concerns over her alleged connection to “cigarette smugglers”.

Government communication

Immense pressure has been put on the National Command Centre to explain why the cigarette ban is continuing. Following court papers filed by the Fair Trade Independent Tobacco Association (FITA) requesting minutes of the meeting in which the ban was discussed, government has agreed to provide reasons. The @News24 tweet to the article had the 3rd highest reach, with over 110 retweets.

Following an article by Trevor Manuel and a widely circulated video of a child being dragged away from his father by police, Manuel spoke out against law enforcement officers, saying they were poorly trained. The @eNCA video has been viewed more than 18 000 times, with more than 150 retweets.

Out of the blue: the DA called on the President to address the nation after an absence of 19 days.

Response to the President’s address

On 14 May President Ramaphosa announced that the next phase of the response to Covid-19 would be a gradual easing of lockdown and opening up of the economy.

Responses to the President’s speech dominated the evening conversation with over 12 000 mentions on Twitter. @CyrilRamaphosa tweeted a recording of the speech, which was re-tweeted 110 times, had 258 comments and 392 likes. It was fourth by reach, at 266 031.

@HermanMashaba tweeted that while the country would be going to Level 3, the economic hubs, Johannesburg and Cape Town metros, would remain at Level 4. Mashaba’s tweet that the metros should be opened up was tenth by reach for the day, reaching 188 201.

@LukhonaMnguni’s tweet criticising the President for having “nothing to say” was the seventh highest by reach: it was re-tweeted 195 times and had a reach of 226 055.

School Fees

The top story last week around schools was to “please pay school fees”.Cape Talk had reported on the story and it gained traction as it was reported again through MSN Money.

The CEO of the Federation of Governing Bodies of South African Schools, Paul Colditz, is urging parents to pay as they have a statutory obligation.

Parents who are anti-paying are questioning why full school fees are payable when their children are attending virtual classes, or being home schooled by the parents themselves.

According to legislation, there are instances in which students are exempted from school fees but parents who are able to pay cannot simply withhold school fees. Colditz likened this to the situation of not being allowed to withhold tax money that is payable to the revenue services.

Major retailer and police station close after staff test positive for Covid-19

More and more essential services workers who interact with the public, are testing positive for Covid-19.

The Shoprite Group confirmed that Checkers Rylands Village (in Cape Town) has closed until further notice for decontamination and further screening of employees. This follows a staff protest outside the store demanding that the store be closed.

Police stations at Emalahleni in Mpumalanga and Inanda in Durban have also closed, raising questions about support for workers on the front line of the pandemic, and their capacity to safeguard the public.

The war on Gender-based violence

It has been reported that in the first three weeks of the lockdown more than 120 000 victims of Gender-based Violence phoned the national helpline for abused women and children - double the normal number of calls.

President Ramaphosa announced measures to empower women during lockdown: “One of the interventions we have made is to ensure lockdown regulations be structured in a manner that a woman can leave her home to report abuse without the fear of a fine, intimidation or further violence.”

Gauteng Community Safety MEC Faith Mazibuko revealed 566 arrests related to GBV were made in Gauteng from 13 May to 14 May.

The national government’s GBV and femicide command centre is on standby 24/7 to help women and children, visit more info.

Fake news for churches

A “return to church guidelines” post on social media has been listed by @GovernmentZA as “Fake News”. The post which misdirected readers, falsely stated that church services would resume from 21 May 2020.

The government has made it clear that large gatherings of people are not allowed under the lockdown, as they put all people at such gatherings at risk of being infected by the coronavirus. Therefore South Africans will need to continue practising their faith at home or via online platforms.

The President asks us all to care

President Ramaphosa has urged citizens to take personal responsibility for their own health and the health of others to prevent the spread of Covid-19: "As restrictions are eased, we will need to observe social distancing even more carefully, wear face masks whenever we leave home, wash hands regularly with soap and water”.

On testing positive: social media users are starting to go public with personal accounts of being infected with the coronavirus. @sibamazwai’s tweet: “My whole family tested positive from COVID-19 including me” was retweeted widely, with over 3 000 people offering solace and advice on how to beat the condition.

Government’s relief packages

The government’s relief packages have been a consistent feature of the online conversation since they were launched. Financial aid discussions achieved the highest number of re-tweets last Thursday: 71 967.

Yesterday @SABCNews quoted President Ramaphosa as saying the Unemployment Insurance Fund had paid out R11 billion to two million workers - this became the top tweet in this conversation.

The second biggest tweet, also from @SABCNews, quoted the President saying that he was focused on rebuilding the economy and creating jobs as the lockdown is eased. This tweet reached 46 069 Twitter users.

Criticism of the aid has focused on the difficulty in accessing the various grants, or complaints that financial aid was based on race (a continuous thread in the online-conversation hough tends to involve a small group of people).

The top media item by number of retweets in this conversation was a video uploaded to Twitter by @DaanBarnard: “South Africa government refuse pandemic aid to Poor Whites”. The tweet had a reach of 21 965.