Civil unrest report commentary: 03 June – 09 June

For the period of 03 June – 09 June the Protest Query run by CABC returned:18 610 mentions. 9 956 unique authors were involved in the conversation. Using that query 28 separate protests were identified as having occurred in the past week within South Africa. This document provides some analysis and commentary on those protests, as well as on the online conversation about protests in South Africa.

The Query

The query looks at news, forums, blogs and twitter, and is designed to collect multi-media items that mention protests or terms related to protest.

The protest query was updated for this week, resulting in a smaller total conversation volume, and a more effective search. The query was revised to more effectively exclude international protests news and unrelated media items. The detailed query can be found in Appendix A.

The query only gathered media items from within South Africa. For the period 03 June – 09 June. This returned a total of 18 610 mentions. A total of 9 956 unique authors were involved in the conversation. For comparison, if we had run this query last week it would have returned 40 431 mentions, generated by 18 956 unique authors. Mentions and unique authors increased by 54% and 47% respectively. Comparatively, the previous query that was used (which forms the basis of the report from 28 May – 03 June) returned 84 305 mentions and 31 043 authors. This new query has halved that total volume of the conversation by excluding irrelevant media items.

This improved search was complimented by analysts browsing a number of Twitter accounts that are known to share protest-related news, found in Appendix A, and some simple searches on the Twitter platform.

The Trends

The volume for the conversation over the reported period was as follows:

The total volume of the conversation is significantly lower compared to last week, due to a reduction in engagement around George Floyd and #blacklivesmatter. The scale on the left indicates that the total number of mentions at volumetric peak by hour was just over 500.

The word cloud below shows, ranked by size, the most-used #hashtags within the conversation on protests online over the past week:

As can be see #blacklivesmatter was the largest hashtag by volume within the conversation, however, it is fading significantly in conversation this week compared to last. This was started by the death of George Floyd in the United States, but has since evolved into a sustained conversation in South Africa about police brutality and racial inequality. An interesting trend, which is discussed further below, is the emergence of a competing narrative around the killing of white Afrikaans farmers in South Africa, this is evidenced here by the #farmattacks hashtag appearing just below #blacklivesmatter and only slightly smaller than #georgefloyd.

The word-cloud below shows the top phrases and words used by South Africans involved in the conversation on protests during the week of 03 June – 09 June:

Within the word cloud above, Ficksburg, Tatane, years and tragic all refer to the killing of Andries Tatane by South African Police Services (SAPS) at a protest in Ficksburg in 2011. On 3 June at 10:00 the spike was caused by 538 media items in the protest conversation. This spike in volume was driven primarily by conversation about Andries Tatane, specifically this Tweet:

A total of twenty eight protests were recorded in the Civil Unrest Report for the period 03 June – 09 June. Of those 28 Protests:

  • Two were related to salaries
  • One was related to housing / evictions
  • Ten were related to service delivery of either water or electricity
  • Seven were related to COVID-19
  • Four were related to race / racism, and
  • Four were of unknown motive

The protest related to housing and evictions occurred in Dunoon starting on 30 May and continuing until 3 June, it was captured in last week’s commentary. The service-delivery protests were primarily related to residents of certain areas demanding that they receive water or electricity. These protests tend to be localised to one particular location and do not often have the same broad appeal that other topics may have. Often these protests are mentioned online because the protest has blocked a road, and is being mentioned in a traffic report. Particularly concerning were claims that at one protest that civilians were fired upon with live rounds. This is currently under investigation.

Situational Analysis

BlackLivesMatter and Police Brutality in SA

Of the 28 protests identified in the query, four of them were related to race or racism. These protests were motivated by the online conversation around George Floyd and the BlackLivesMatter movement. The protests initially focused on George Floyd and then turned to a number of South Africans who have been killed by the police.

The EFF also held a protest in solidarity for the global movement on 08 June in Sandton outside the United States consulate, in which they knelt for 8 minutes and 46 seconds – reportedly the amount of time that the police officer knelt on George Floyd’s neck during the fatal arrest. The EFF protest blocked traffic in Sandton and trended online.

While these protests received broad support in South Africa, the South African government been criticised for their position over the killing of George Floyd, as evidenced by the cartoon done by Zapiro on 09 June 2020, here:

The online conversation regarding the killing of Adnries Tatane was a driver of volume on the 30 May, this led to a broader conversation around police brutality in South Africa. The terms “Collins Khosa” and #justiceforCollinsKhosa were used online 7 143 times between 3 June and 9 June, however interest in police brutality appears to be waning, this was a decrease of 64% from the previous week.

A number of learners from private and Model-C schools held a protest against racism and discrimination at their schools, while this occured at multiple schools this was counted as one protest as they were mobilised with the same idea and under the hashtag: #racisminSAhighschools. These protests occurred both in person, such as at Bishops, and online. At least 20 schools participated in the online protest against racism while #racisminSAhighschools trended, with stories of racism at various schools emerging. A similar incident occurred at Durban Girls’ College, while a student at Northcliff High School in Blackheath, in Johannesburg wrote a letter to the MEC for Education in Gauteng, Panyaza Lesfui. The letter was posted on Twitter and, as of 14:00 on 11 June, had been retweeted 538 times and liked 1 100 times. This was an interesting moment in which online conversation merged with, and led to an in person protests.

#Alllivesmatter and Farm Murders

Another response to the online conversation in-person protests around Blacklivesmatter was for white South Africans to use the #alllivesmatter hashtag and to discuss farm murders. While some of the #alllivesmatter conversation online can be read as a somewhat cynical resistance to an engagement with the complexities of race and police brutality, the conversation around Farm Murders is quite different. There is a narrative that South African farmers are ‘under attack’ and that there is a ‘white genocide’ occurring in South Africa. So as the Blacklivesmatter campaign took off online, a number of authors responded by mentioning farm murders using hashtags such as #plaasmoorde. The terms #Boerlivesmatter, “farm murders”, and plaasmoorde received a total of 6031 mentions over the reported period of 3 – 9 June, and this topic appears to be growing in volume.

This conversation was in part driven by the story of an elderly couple who were attacked on their farm outside Revilio in the North West provincePhotos of the woman’s face, which was severely swollen and bruised after the attack, circulated widely on social media. Katie Hopkins, the conservative British politician,also Tweeted that picture.This narrative was used to undermine the South African Black Lives Matter protest, by saying that, in fac,t white people are more at risk in South Africa. The Tweet below is included as an example:

COVID-19 Related Protests

While a number of protests were related to race, racism and police brutality, there were also seven protests that occurred in the last week that were related to COVID-19. Four of these protests were medical care workers protesting over concerns for their own safety during the pandemic and inadequate access to PPE. Two of the coronavirus protests were related to the public transport restriction implemented in order to try to combat the spread of the virus, and one protest was arranged by the parents of school children who were concerned about learners’ safety as they returned to school.

Protesting during the coronavirus pandemic has been complicated by the need for social distancing. There has been some criticism that those protesting for Black Lives Matter have forgotten about social distancing. The critics have asked, if the virus was as contagious as originally stated, why the protests have not not led to increases in the numbers of coronavirus infections. Globally, there has also been an increase in digital protests, such as the citizens of Thailand who arranged a protest online, as well as several high-profile employee protests, for example, at Facebook. In another unique instance, a protest in Israel was conducted while observing social distancing.

Civil Unrest Trends on the Horizon

Protests at hospitals and other public institutions are expected to increase in numbers in the medium-term. Tygerberg hospital, one of the largest in the Western Cape, has had a number of its non-medical offices closed as a result of a large number of its staff testing positive for COVID-19. Police officers at at least one police station have expressed fear of contracting the virus. It is anticipated that the pressure on public services, such as hospitals and police stations will increase and that more of these facilities will be shut down.

Three other potential areas for protest or civil unrest have been identified, one in the near-term and two with a longer-term timeline. In the near-term the risk for protest is the taxi drivers in Gauteng, in the long-term there is a risk of gender-based violence related protests. Additionally, on the horizon is xenophobic violence, being fired by Herman Mashaba and the #PutSouthAfricansFirst movement.

Taxi Protests

One of the measures that the government has put in place to reduce the likelihood of coronavirus transmission has been to limit the number of commuters allowed in public transport vehicles with taxis being limited to operating at 70% of their occupancy capacity. This is to enable ‘social distancing’ within taxis and busses. This has been met with resistance from both commuters and drivers, commuters have been complaining that they are arriving late as more vehicles are required to transport them, while drivers are complaining over their lost revenue. There have been some protests on this issue already, as noted above. Taxi drivers have stated they need to increase fares, as they have not received financial aid from the government during the coronavirus ciris. South African National Taxi Council (Santaco) has stated that if by 15 June financial aid has not been received from the government, prices charged to commuters will increase drastically. It is expected that this will result in widespread commuter protests.

Gender Based Violence Protests

On the 8th of June a young woman,Tshegofatso Pule, was murdered. Her story, while not dissimilar from other equally tragic murders that have happened in South Africa in recent memory, seems to have found resonance with South African social media users. Twitter reported that #TshegofatsoPule had been mentioned in 59 300 Tweets as of 14:00 on 11 June. This story has taken over the online conversation around violence and crime, as stories such as Collins Khosa fade. This incident contributed to the broader conversation around violence in South Africa, though it shifted the conversation from looking at police brutality to being more focused on gender-based, intimate-partner violence and the amount of violence that women experience in this country. The conversations around GBV have been amplifying on social media over the last few weeks, especially with lockdown related increases in cases of domestic violence.

In this reporting cycle alone, Gender Based Violence has been a top topic of conversation on social media on three of the five daily reports issued by the CABC.


Herman Mashaba, formerly the Mayor of Johannesburg and representative of the Democratic Alliance, is in the process of setting up a new political party. As part of that he has been speaking publicly about various political issues, he has also started a new conversation around the idea of “Putting South Africans First”. There is some debate as to whether this is nationalist, focused on protecting South Africans, or xenophobic rhetoric, however the way that online conversation manifest is often xenophobic.

Herman Mashaba has recently recruited David Tembe, formerly Chief of Police for the Johannesburg Metropolitan Police Department (JMPD), to his political party. Mashaba is also using ‘tough on crime’ and tough on refugees rhetoric, his stance seems to be to blame foreigners for crime and unemployment in South Africa. Currently his ‘Pinned Tweet’ (so that it always shows at the top of his profile) is this one:

He has also posted tweets such as this:

There has been at least one story of a South African celebrity being insulted online for defending foreign nationals living here in South Africa. EFF party leader, Julius Malema, was also subject to online criticism for his criticisms of the Put South Africans First movement resulting in a trending hashtag #JuliusMalemaMustFall. During the BLM protest held by the EFF outside the US Consulate he said“While you kill Zimbabweans, Mozambicans, Nigerians and Somalians here in South Africa and you call them ‘makwerekwere’ and all sorts of names, today you are holding a placard saying #BlackLivesMatter? You supported the killing of your fellow black brothers and sisters, and you have some useless hashtag on social media saying #PutSouthAfricaFirst. That is narrow nationalism”. The EFF have been the subject of attack by those involved with the #PutSouthAfricansFirst movement. Tweets such as this one are becoming more common:

This one is equally concerning:

The graph below show the increase in the volume of the use of #PutSouthAfricansFirst and #PutSouthAfricaFirst hashtags over the previous week:

While there is no clear call to action, and some have stated that this is about protecting South Africans rather than attacking foreigners, this has made a significant impact in the online conversation over the preceding week, #PutSouthAfricansFirst featured as a top trend in several of the 24 hr analyses written by the CABC this week. This should be monitored closely going forward.


The overall volume of mentions and authors in the civil unrest conversation decreased over the past week. A number of topics also shifted, while the reported topics last week featured George Floyd and BlackLivesMatter, this week those topics had moved to focus on police brutality and gender-based violence in South Africa. The student-led protests at various private and model-C schools were a mixture of online and in-person events, learners were critical of their schools and many schools responded with what appear to be genuine intentions to address these concerns. It is expected that going forward there may be more civil unrest in social service institutions, such as hospitals, police stations and prisons, as staff are fearful of becoming infected with coronavirus and are not provided with adequate PPE. Public transport may prove to be a flash-point of protest in the next 10 days, particularly with the taxi industry mobilising to increase their fees on 15 June if they do not receive financial support from the government. Gender-based violence related protests are emerging as a concern in the medium to long-term. In the medium-term there is concern about the xenophobic tone of the converstion being taken by the Put South Africans First movement, and this may devolve into xenophobic violence similar to that seen in 2008 if not addressed.

Appendix A: Protest Query

Protest Query:
#protestaction OR #unrest OR #looting OR #riots OR #riot OR #protests OR #shutdown OR toytoy OR looting) OR (“burning tires” OR “blocking road” OR “public protest”OR “protest action” OR “toy-toy”)*

OR ((protest OR boipelaetso OR “ho toyi toya” OR baipelaetsi OR boipelaetso OR mogwantong OR badiraditshupetso OR “batho ba ba neng ba le mo mogwantong” OR izikhalazo OR ukuyichasa OR sabaqhankqalazi OR umchasi OR riot* OR morusu OR moferefere OR merusu OR “batho ba bakang merusu” OR “ho baka morusu” OR dikhuduego OR “tsosa khuduego” OR dintwa OR dikhuduego OR “ba etsang merusu” OR dikhuduego OR uqhushululu OR “izikhalazo isidubedube” OR neziphithiphithi OR Bavuthayo OR ukuzabalaza OR “ukuvusa uqhushululu” OR uqhankqalazo)*

NEAR/10 ((basic OR essential* OR fundamental OR water OR food OR electricity) OR (freedom OR libert* OR ((civil OR public OR constitutional) NEAR/2 rights)) OR ((Medical OR health OR hospital) NEAR/2 staff) OR nurse* OR doctor*) OR (worker* OR employee* OR staff)*

OR (Prison NEAR/2 (staff OR officer OR inmate*)) OR prisoner)))OR author:RiotAndAttackSA OR author:BOSBEER2006 OR author:1SecondLater OR author:ProtestZA OR author:MARIUSBROODRYK OR author:IanCameron23 OR author:SAPoliceService OR author:ArriveAlive OR author:netstartraffic OR author:PigSpotter OR author:AfriNewsAgency OR author:takatsomoloi OR author:JoburgMPD OR author:TrafficSA OR author:viewfinderjourn OR author:sjcoalition OR author:UniteBehind OR author:ER24EMS OR author:EMERGCONTROL OR author:KZNEMS OR author:randpigspot OR author:FatalMoves OR author:takatsomoloi OR author:JPSAorg OR author:LimaCharlie1 OR author:ArriveAlive OR author:SAcrimefighters OR author:EWNTraffic OR author:GPCommSafety OR author:Dashcampros OR author:TrafficRTMC OR author:GTPTraffstats OR author:Abramjee OR author:1SecondLater OR author:CALSZA OR author:stolencarRSA OR author:SALTruckers OR author:WomenProtestSA OR author:FatalMoves

NOT (striker OR huawei* OR #huaweiP40series OR “George Floyd” OR US OR USA*

About CABC

The Centre for Analytics and Behavioural Change (CABC) is a non-profit organisation based at UCTs Graduate School of Business and incubated by the Allan Gray Centre for Values-Based Leadership. It was established to track and counter mis- and disinformation, fake news and divisive and polarising rhetoric that is promulgated online to undermine social cohesion, democratic integrity, and the stability of nation states.

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