Citizens who trust Ramaphosa willing to sacrifice human rights to curb Covid-19 spread, survey finds

President Cyril Ramaphosa.
President Cyril Ramaphosa.
  • Some people are willing to sacrifice rights for the greater good, according to a study by the University of Johannesburg in collaboration with the Human Sciences Research Council.
  • The survey has found those who trust President Cyril Ramaphosa are more willing to sacrifice than those with no trust in him. 
  • As the support for the sale of alcohol and tobacco during the lockdown grew, people became unwilling to sacrifice their human rights.

South Africans, who have trust in President Cyril Ramaphosa, are more likely to sacrifice their human rights in order to curb the spread of the coronavirus in the country.

This according to a survey by the University of Johannesburg's (UJ) Centre for Social Change and Human Sciences Research Council's (HSRC) Developmental, Capable and Ethical State (DCES) division.

The survey was conducted online among adult South Africans on their views about the social and economic impact of the lockdown caused by the pandemic. 

The Covid-19 Democracy Survey found some people were willing to sacrifice a portion of their human rights during the lockdown. 

It was based on 12 312 completed questionnaires, with findings weighted to match Statistics South Africa data on race, education and age. 

Presenting the findings on the Paradox of Human Rights during a pandemic on Thursday during a Webinar on Zoom, the HSRC's divisional director, Professor Narnia Bohler-Muller, said there was a lot of empathy and self-interest on the question of sacrificing human rights. 

From the 12 212 respondents weighted to the population of the country, 66% agreed to sacrificing their rights and 8% were undecided, while 26% were not willing to do so. 

The survey was conducted in three phases - the first from 13 to 18 April, the second from 18 to 27 April and the third from 27 April to 4 May. 

According to the data, 80% of those questioned indicated they had trust in Ramaphosa during phase one of the survey and by phase three, 79% had trust in him. 

Thirty-four percent had no trust in the president during phase one of the survey, and 44% and 52% in phases two and three, respectively. 

Bohler-Muller said responses on sacrificing rights were relatively stable in all the phases, with the average of those agreeing being 66% in all phases while 8% disagreed. 

In phase one, which was during Level 5 of the lockdown, 68% had agreed to sacrificing their human rights and phase three, which was conducted at the end of Level 5 and beginning of 4, 63% were willing to do so.

Men were much more reluctant to sacrifice their human rights, while women were not, according to the data. The youth were also less willing. 

"Most importantly, the older people within our society [aged 55+], the drop has been drastic, from 80% [agreeing] in the first phase, to 51% in the third phase. So males and the elderly have begun to feel less willing to sacrifice their human rights," she added. 

Bohler-Muller said data also showed the white population had lost faith and were less likely to "unconditionally support" the lockdown and sacrifice human rights. 

Coloured adults were on average more willing to sacrifice their human rights than black adults. 

The more educated people were, the more likely they were willing to sacrifice their rights, but that dropped in the third phase of the survey. 

Trusting in the police and army

Bohler-Muller said the drop in willingness to sacrifice their rights came from people employed in casual or piece-meal jobs, which included those who were self-employed. 

Students were more willing to sacrifice their rights to curb the spread of the virus. 

She added the results did not mean there was trust in the government because the survey focused on Ramaphosa as president. 

"Trust in the police was approximately around 50% across the three phases, and of those who trust the police, a large number are willing to sacrifice their rights." 

By phase three of the survey, 86% indicated they trust the police, even though there had been reports of violence.

Bohler-Muller said it was interesting to note people in informal settlements were more trusting of the police. 

The army was trusted more than the police, according to the data. 

Alcohol and tobacco sales

She added the more scared or afraid people were, the more willingness they showed to sacrifice their human rights, while it was a different story for those who were angry. 

Bohler-Muller said on the question regarding liquor and tobacco sales, the survey found support for the sale of these products decreased people's willingness to sacrifice their rights. 

"As support for tobacco and alcohol sales increases, people become less willing to sacrifice their rights and obviously more insistent on exercising their freedoms," she added.

According to the data, those who smoked were more dissatisfied than those who drank alcohol. 

"So, human rights are a paradox. They can be seen as a symbol for liberalism, capitalism and individualism by some, those who don't want to sacrifice their freedoms or rights at all for anyone and some would be looking at social justice, peace and development and therefore be willing to sacrifice for the greater good.  

"The ideological power of human rights lies in the oscillation between law and order and the desire for a better world," Bohler-Muller said.  

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