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South Africans emerge as leaders in driving change, digitally



Image from Women's Day Respect Gender Rally Barcelona - by Max Pixel Global Digital Civic Engagement Index shows a sharp increase, since the pandemic outbreak, of South Africans using online petitions to voice their concerns, influence policy and persuade decision makers to make changes on issues related to COVID-19. Over four million new users signed up to in South Africa since January 2020.

The Index, built by the Foundation, based on people’s engagement on the Platform, reveals that there has been a significant increase in the way citizens are starting, joining and winning campaigns. COVID-19 related petitions and issues are surprisingly only a part of this growth. The data, analysed for the top 25 countries with highest engagement on from January 2020 to July 2020, compares its data against the same period last year. 

South Africa takes a stand

South Africa’s level of increase in engagement reveals that people in the country are using online tools to take a stand on issues such as the safety of women and girls, protecting nurses on the frontline, ensuring people could return to work and protecting students. 

  • User growth: Over four million new users signed up in South Africa since January 2020, six times the amount of users over the same period in 2019. South Africa saw a growth of 600% more users in 2020. Over 60% of new user signups are in support of COVID-19 petitions.
  • Signature growth: Highest year on year growth in signatures – From 2019 to 2020, total signatures grew by ten times. Public support for social causes grew in the form of a 1060% increase in signatures. Nearly 33% signatures of this were linked to COVID-19 related petitions.
  • Petition growth: From 2019 to 2020, petition grew by 2.5 times. South Africa saw 227% more petitions in this period. 30% of petitions are related to COVID-19.
  • Victories: Successful petitions that created an impact grew by 141%. From 51 victories in 2019 to 123 victories in 2020. 34 of the 123 victorious petitions were COVID-19 related victories.

 These numbers and the spike pattern from South Africain on user activity and petitions started are the highest recorded by The top cause areas on which South Africans started petitions were economic reform, political reform, human rights, safety of women and girls, student rights, police brutality, economic equality, internet freedom and animal rights.

South African women ran more successful petitions than men

While men started more campaigns on than women both in 2019 and 2020, women won more campaigns consistently. As the second graph shows, from 2019 to 2020, petitions started by women, which claimed victory, grew three times compared to petitions started by men. 

More women started petitions in 2020. There was also an increase of 5% in women starting petitions between 2019 and 2020, while there was a 5% drop in men starting petitions this year. Safety of women and  girls emerged as one of the most trending topics in South Africa with strong petitions on justice for victims of sexual violence and the welfare of women frontline health workers

What does this mean for the future of civic engagement in South Africa 

Preethi Herman, global executive director of the Foundation says: “South Africans have a long history of social action and people power. However, the true potential of the intersection of technology and civic engagement has been revealed during the pandemic. We want to support this potential by setting up a local country team in 2020 who will provide more customised support on civic engagement.  This is an important moment to to surface voices from marginalized communities not just from South Africa but across the African continent.”