University of Johannesburg: Mood Swings of South Africans in the last days of June: COVID, Vaccines, Lockdowns and Zuma

The Gross National Happiness index measuring the mood of South Africans has shown that the nation has been experiencing considerable mood swings in the last few days of June. On 27 June, with the announcement of the Level 4 Lockdown, happiness levels dropped to an all-time low of 4 (see Figure 1 – black arrow), the lowest happiness levels ever measured in South Africa since 2019. The depressed mood continued throughout Monday and Tuesday, remaining way beneath the long-term average of 6.6 and even below the short-term average of June at 6.2. Over this period, the number of tweets related to COVID, Vaccines, and Lockdown almost doubled in volume. Surprisingly on Tuesday from noon the mood lifted somewhat to 6.3 (see Figure 1 – blue arrow), which is above the short-term average. The trending topic for this period was “Zuma” (#jacobzuma and #zuma).

These are the results of an ongoing study done by the Gross National Happiness. Today team (Prof Talita Greyling (University of Johannesburg), Dr Stephanie Rossouw (Auckland University of Technology), in collaboration with Afstereo)). They developed the GNH (Happiness Index), which is a real-time measure of the mood of a nation. They construct the index by using Natural Language Processing (Machine learning methods) to analyse the underlying sentiment of tweets. Recently the team expanded their research also to include the analysis of the underlying emotions of tweets. They differentiate between eight emotions; anger, anticipation, disgust, fear, joy, sadness, surprise and trust.

Analysing the tweets from Sunday evening (27 June) to Tuesday, we found the topics most tweeted about are: COVID, Vaccines and the level 4 Lockdown regulations.

The tweets reflected emotions of anger, sadness, fear and frustration. On COVID, it seems that people are at their wit ends. They express an intense fear of being infected by the COVID virus and sadness for the many people losing their lives. They are frustrated due to the slow roll-out of the vaccines and blame the government for inefficiencies and corruption. They are angry about the new lockdown regulations and the alcohol ban. The tweets reveal a fear of worsening economic conditions and further losses of jobs. Parents are very concerned about their children’s schooling.

On the other hand, some tweets show joy and relief due to the announcement of the lockdown measures, although it is mentioned that it likely too little too late. There are also tweets showing confusion as, why are more lockdowns needed if the main reason, previously noted for lockdowns, was to get the health systems prepared for the onslaught. Does this imply that hospitals have not managed to get systems in place since March 2020?

Here are some examples of the tweets showing the current negative emotions related to COVID, Vaccines and Lockdowns:

“I am g@tvol and frustrated about everything increase the number of unemployment as well as being lonely without ama ladies,oh it’s painful yoh yeah…is k@k maar is reg!!! good night every one x #LookingForMjolo #LetsPush #LockDown”
“Under his governance and party the vaccine roll out has been a mess, to the f@cken dogs actually then he keeps implementing these lockdowns that are critical to an already struggling economy… why the fuck don’t they sort out the vaccinations???”
“@KhulaniQoma I think most of the country is very with Cyril, what he knows best is lockdown and not vaccines. Lockdowns don’t open up economy, put the public at ease. Aren’t you angry with how things are at the moment?”
“@rid1tweets Deeply worrying. Should have a much stricter lockdown. What is worrying for my family is that 3 out of the 6 will shortly be vaccinated. The rest of us, maybe next year …”
“The only way our Country is dealing with Covid is going on lockdown and continue looting funds allocated for covid No Vaccine No proper health care facilities Boarders open its just vibes.”
“I wonder how the last year’s third year class is doing at Honours or https://t.co/8GHBgcYFr7 Levels. Worse lockdown speed will not afford Lecturers space to refine a”
“Vaccine is done in phases in fewer numbers so that the country remains under lockdown. @CyrilRamaphosa is doing this to ensure he runs the country corruptly without interruptions, by the time Covid19 is over, there will be no country.”
“So we pack hospitals with alcohol? People must do their job. 3 lockdowns and still our hospitals are not ready still. Yirrrr”
When analysing the upward movement in the GNH on Tuesday since noon, we found the trending topic was Zuma. The court sentenced the old President to 15 months in jail. The increase in the happiness index reflects that the positive emotions related to Zuma being sentenced to jail outweigh the negative emotions. Interesting that this development had such a severe impact on the happiness index. This reflects the prominence of the nation’s emotions towards Zuma.

Examples of some positive and negative emotions underlying Zuma tweets are as follows:

“Let the thieves pay! The Guptas, Zuma and Ace!”
“Today in South Africa we are witnessing a pure demonstration of Justice. Jacob Zuma is the first SA formal president to go to jail for the crimes he committed. #JacobZuma #cartoon “
“This is exactly what I mean. Zuma faction is clueless. Zuma is showing them flames, nyising the at every turn, yet their concern is EFF. Indeed, Cyril has no competition against the Zuma faction. Weak! Weak! Weak!”
“@PresJGZuma be strong, you did say you willing to go. You’re a true soldier. It’s only 15 months, after that at least you don’t have to go to that zondo circus, you faced your time as a man, I salute you.”
Unity means presidential pardon. This is the time to show the world how United South Africa is “@CyrilRamaphosa, lead the nation mr President. Its in your hands now #Zuma #ZumaJudgement #ConCourt”
“Allot will follow!!-This is a huge celebration for #ZumaJudgement”
With the nations’ seesaw emotions, it is time for the government to step in with strong policy measures to turn around negative emotions and move South Africans to the positive side of the happiness scale. What is needed is an efficient roll-out of vaccines and consistency in measures implemented and furthermore, assurance of a positive economic outlook and measures to guarantee the safety of children and allow them to attend school. The upward movement in the happiness index due to Zuma’s being sentenced to jail will be short-lived. The crux is that the nation is depressed, and active policy interventions are needed to turn this around.

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