The Happiness Index (Gross National Happiness) of South Africa, dropped to an all-time low of 5.29 (see yellow arrow), since the first Corona patient was announced on 6 March 2020.  Twenty Plenty” has made a 180-degree turnaround to “Twenty Catastrophe”.  

These are the results of Prof Talita Greyling (University of Johannesburg) and Dr Stephanie Rossouw (Auckland University of Technology) who in collaboration with Afstereo launched South Africa’s Happiness Index in April 2019. The Happiness Index measures the sentiment  levels of South Africans on a scale from zero L to 10 J, with 5 being neutral (neither happy or unhappy) (see www.gnh.today).  Since a week ago, they also analyse the different emotions of the nation.

The Happiness Index has been below daily averages since 10 March, with the announcement of additional COVID-19 patients that tested positive.  The first significant decrease of the Index was during and after Pres. Ramaphosa’s first COVID-19 speech on 15 March (see green arrow), namely the announcement of a national disaster.

The shock of the announcement of a total shut-down of South Africa on 23 March drove the index to new lows of 5.35 (23 March) and 5.29 (early 24 March) (see purple arrow), 15 percent below daily averages. The team expects further decreases, as the far reaching consequences of a total lockdown sinks in.

Happiness Index – 24 March 2020

The team’s expanded analysis of the emotions of the nation, which differentiates between eight emotions of the text of Tweets, namely joy, anticipation, trust, disgust, anger, surprise, fear and sadness revealed the following:

The strongest emotions measured, related to COVID-19 over the last two days (23/24 March) were:

  1. Distrust/trust (21.27%) (see the graph below), interesting to find the highest emotion measured, considering Tweets, to be distrust (negative trust)/trust.  The analysis of the Tweets shows distrust is related to: “if the health system is strong enough to survive the onslaught of high numbers of COVID-19 cases”, “can the regulations introduced by government curtail the pandemic”. “will the government be able to enforce the regulations set into place”. “can we trust Ramaphosa saying that there will be enough food”, “can we trust the statistics released on COVID positive patients”, “COVID-19 is a hoax, we should not take it seriously, we cannot trust what is said”, on the other hand Tweets related to trust, reveals trust in the government taking such severe steps to curtail the pandemic and then many Tweets are related to prayer, asking God to protect the country.
  2. Anticipation (16,8%), Tweets mainly reveal an uncertainty about the future, the outcome of social isolation and the general effect of a total lockdown.
  3. Fear (15,32), fear is related to: “being infected”, “the economic disasters, which the economy is facing” and “the severe economic implications for many households”.
  4. Joy (13,29), typically even in these times of hardship, South African’s still find something to be joyful about.  Many of the Tweets are related to the recovery of the environment, as the destruction of the human is set on hold, Tweets relate to:  “Dolphins in Venice canals”, “nature restoration amid COVID-19”. “Sandhof lilies bloom for the first time in 3 years”.  Other Tweets are more social of nature and focus on “time to reflect”, “the wonderful initiatives of the “Solidarity Fund”. “the giving nature and empathy of South Africans to assist those in need”, “the willingness of the rich to support the poor”.


Emotions of South Africans related to COVID-19


We wait in anticipation to see what this new era in South Africa holds. Can the rainbow nation stand together and defeat this destructive virus?


Prof Talita Greyling (talitag@uj.ac.za)

Wellbeing Economist, University of Johannesburg, Board of directors International Society of Quality of Life Studies, Co-editor Journal of Happiness Studies.

Dr Stephanié Rossouw (stephanie.rossouw@aut.ac.nz)

Wellbeing Economist, Auckland University of Technology, Vice-President Finance for International Society of Quality of Life Studies, Editor Journal of Happiness Studies. 

Technical Support by AFSTEREO (www.afstereo.com)

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