Lockdown: One in three adults in SA goes to bed hungry, according to latest research

Riaan Grobler

Unemployment and the subsequent loss of income remain key concerns for South Africans and have a direct impact on food security, research by Ask Afrika has shown.

It found that food security at a household level is low, and that one in three adults went to bed hungry as they did not have enough food to eat in their homes. A fifth of respondents lost weight during the Covid-19 lockdown period because of a lack of food.

Food security is not only a concern for vulnerable communities, with half of those in suburbs or metro areas noting that they are concerned about the amount of food in their homes. Nearly 40% of adults in these areas also reduced their portion sizes or meal frequencies due to a limited amount of food in the home.

Qualitative feedback from the Ask Afrika Covid-19 Passageways results indicated that, at the onset of the lockdown, adults would start eating less, or only once a day, in order to ration the amount of food for the duration of the lockdown.

Ask Africa has been conducting weekly research since the beginning of the coronavirus lockdown on 26 March. The main aim of the research is to understand the socioeconomic impact the coronavirus lockdown and the gradual reopening of the economy has on South Africans.

Over the past six weeks, quantitative research was done using a 10-minute questionnaire administered in English. A total of 2 446 interviews were conducted and the quota structure aligned with the proportions of the general South African population. The results for Week 6 were obtained from 4 to 10 May.

Borrowing money from friends, family

According to the survey, unemployment and the subsequent loss of income remain key concerns and have a direct impact on food security. Many people will not have the financial means to continue paying their rent or bonds, should the current financial situation persist.

A large proportion of people are borrowing money from friends, family, employers, or mashonisas (loans sharks).

Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, South Africa had R1.75 trillion in outstanding debt, and 25.7 million South Africans had a credit card, personal, vehicle, home or retail loan.

High unemployment and low incomes force many people to take on debt to maintain their daily living expenses, which drives many into unmanageable debt. Further to this, four in 10 respondents made financial arrangements with institutions for later payment, and 21% applied for a payment holiday.

A third of people are no longer able to pay their rent due to the lockdown; another 34% will stop paying within three months.

Emotional well-being of South Africans is low

The highest fear remains the contraction of a severe form of the coronavirus. Social distress remains high, with three in four people showing concern about the livelihoods of their friends and family.

Exercise as a stress release: The relaxation of exercise restrictions has given many people the opportunity to exercise outside of their homes, and up to 50% of respondents have taken advantage of this.

Exercising outside gave them the opportunity to lower their levels of stress, anxiety and other negative emotional states. Many respondents feel that the exercise restrictions do not make sense, and that it will not keep South Africans safe.

Nearly 50% of people observed high levels of congregation in public spaces from 06:00 to 09:00 and believe that the restrictions should be relaxed due to the high level of congregation.

Education is very inconsistent across communities: Role confusion contributes to this sense of social distress, and nearly 60% of parents experience increased levels of stress because of double roles at home, including working and assisting their children with schoolwork during the day.

Many parents note that their children do not have the resources to assist with schooling at home. Up to a third of parents note that their educational facility did not make any arrangements with them to continue the curriculum while staying at home.

A large proportion of parents agree that their children should repeat the school year in 2021 as too much time has been lost due to the pandemic. Concerns about their children’s education and being left behind are high.

How does Covid-19 affect South Africans’ emotional response?

After six weeks, about a quarter of citizens said that they were “managing”, down from 52% in the first week. Levels of optimism are now close to zero, after almost seven weeks of lockdown.

Young people show the highest levels of fear, depression, and discouragement. Respondents older than 65 are the least likely to experience depression and are the most comfortable.

Social distress remains high among respondents. Most people miss social interactions, and long for engagement with friends and family. A large proportion of people feel anxious most of the time and experience role confusion, which contributes to social distress.

The fear of actually contracting the coronavirus jumped by 14% since 1 April and remains the biggest concern for many people, the survey has found. Further to this, people are fearful that family members may contract the virus when they go to work or the shops.

While concerns about contracting the virus remain the highest fear, the fear of unemployment has tripled over the lockdown period.

Perceptions on how the government can assist township and rural communities

The need for food parcels has dropped by 17% in three weeks. The need for grants has risen. The need for education awareness is also on the rise.

Most importantly, it needs to be explained, in the different official languages, how the virus came about and how to prevent getting sick and why the government is taking drastic measures.

Many of the people in South Africa don’t understand how the virus came about and why certain laws have been put in place. Consequently, they are not obeying regulations. 

People are also conflicted about the partial economic reopening: 35% believe the gradual reopening will help contain the virus, while an equal number (37%) will not comply with regulations if the country moved back to Level 5.

‘Academic year should be repeated’

Seven weeks into lockdown, nearly half of all children have inadequate or no teaching access. Parents struggle with home schooling and about half have no resources or skills to help their children.

In addition, childcare is a paradoxical dilemma for parents. While half don’t have childcare, they also don’t trust childcare facilities to open.

Parents significantly struggle in trying to home school and entertain their children. Staggeringly, nearly two-thirds of parents think that the 2020 academic year should be repeated.

This article was first published on news24.com on 20 May 2020.