Online activism takes root in lockdown SA

Data collected by Change.org suggests the coronavirus outbreak spurred a wave of internet activism in SA.

File: Data collected by Change.org suggests the coronavirus outbreak spurred a wave of internet activism in SA.

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JOHANNESBURG - Digital activism surged in South Africa this year, with four million new users signing up to online petition platform Change.org to support causes linked to coronavirus and sexual violence, the platform says.

The number of new users between January and July 2020 was six times higher than over the same period last year -- placing South Africa at the top of a 25-country civic engagement increase ranking published this week and seen by AFP on Thursday.

Data collected by Change.org, the world's largest petition website with 320 million users globally, suggests the coronavirus outbreak spurred a wave of internet activism in South Africa.

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Street protests have been de-facto banned since the country went into lockdown in late March, with gatherings capped at 50 people to limit the spread of COVID-19. 

The flip side is that online petition signatures grew tenfold from 2019 to 2020 -- 33 percent of which supported coronavirus-related causes such as job protection and access to mental health services.

Other popular petitions called for better protection of women and girls in a country plagued by gender-based violence.

"South Africans have a long history of social action and people power," said Change.org global director Preethi Herman.

Herman said more South Africans were recognising the internet as a "tool" for "regular citizens who are not activists" to "step up".

"There are multiple issues that need people on the ground to engage with decision-makers to be resolved," she told AFP on Thursday. "This is the start of that happening in huge numbers and more effectively."

The proportion of women starting online petitions had increased globally, noted Herman.

READ: Gender-based violence getting worse: activists

In South Africa, over 44 percent of Change.org petitions were launched by women, compared to 39 percent in 2019.

"When barriers to making social change are reduced... more leaders emerge from marginalised communities," said Herman, adding that women generally felt "safer" protesting online than out on the street.

She also believed a global rise in domestic violence under lockdown had prompted more women to engage in social action.

"COVID has brought a lot of issues to the front," Herman said. "My sense is that women are saying: enough!"

Source
AFP