Original Research

Government communication in times of crisis: The priorities and trends in South Africa’s response to COVID-19

Sokfa F. John, Haruna Maama, Oluwaseun T. Ojogiwa, Betty C. Mubangizi
The Journal for Transdisciplinary Research in Southern Africa | Vol 18, No 1 | a1146 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/td.v18i1.1146 | © 2022 Sokfa F. John, Haruna Maama, Oluwaseun T. Ojogiwa, Betty C. Mubangizi | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 21 September 2021 | Published: 15 July 2022

About the author(s)

Sokfa F. John, SARChI in Sustainable Local Livelihoods, School of Management, IT and Governance, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, South Africa
Haruna Maama, Department of Management Accounting, Durban University of Technology, Durban, South Africa
Oluwaseun T. Ojogiwa, School of Management, IT and Governance, College of Law and Management Studies, University of Kwazulu-Natal, Durban, South Africa
Betty C. Mubangizi, School of Management, IT and Governance, College of Law and Management Studies, University of Kwazulu-Natal, Durban, South Africa


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Abstract

The effectiveness of a government’s communication, especially in times of crisis, is crucial to its legitimacy, reputation, disaster management and its ability to ensure the wellbeing of its people. This paper examines the focus and trends in press statements published on South Africa’s official coronavirus website during the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. Government decisions, successes and challenges were frequently communicated to the public through these statements. The study aimed to understand what was communicated regarding government’s priorities and the factors that shaped them. Data were extracted from 483 press statements published between 05 March 2020 and 15 January 2021. Thematic analysis and mean scores were used to identify the focus and trends in the messages, while the Wilcoxon signed rank test (WSRT) was used to identify the significance of the changes in the mean scores. The results showed a coordinated and persistent effort to inform the public with credible, accurate, timely and empowering information. The most persistent priority of the government was to control the spread of the virus, while several issues relating to the socio-economic wellbeing of the people were prioritised at different stages of the pandemic. There was a parallel movement between the trajectory of the disease and government decisions, suggesting that government response was mostly reactive to the behaviour of the pandemic. The South African government needs to be more proactive in its disaster response and demonstrate a nuanced understanding of its citizens and their challenges.


Keywords

government communication; COVID-19 pandemic; disaster; press releases; crisis communication; information

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