South Africans are among the world’s most vocal when it comes to engaging with the government, whether through service delivery protests or civic organisations who are not afraid to take on our leaders in the courts over the myriad of issues that plague our country.
Over the years, an increasing number of South Africans have taken to social media to communicate directly with the country’s leaders, many of whom have embraced platforms like X (formerly known as Twitter), Facebook and more recently, TikTok.
Now, the latest study by Decode Communications which is the 4th edition of their annual study called "South African Government Leaders on X " has provided a detailed analysis of how government leaders and their spokespersons are utilising digital platforms.
The study has found that in terms of the most followed, President Cyril Ramaphosa came out tops with 2.7 million followers, followed by Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy Gwede Mantashe (535K), Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma Minister in Presidency for Women, Youth and Persons with Disabilities (437K) and Zizi Kodwa Minister of Sport, Arts and Culture (247 241) and Minister of Tourism, Patricia De Lille (224K).
For the top five most engaged government leaders, President Ramaphosa recorded the highest engagement, followed by Panyaza Lesufi, Naledi Pandor and Bheki Cele (both of whom are not on X), then by Gwede Mantashe.
The study did not include the likes of EFF leader Julius Malema who has 4.1 million followers on X and Fikile Mbalula, the ANC’s secretary-general who has 4 million followers or the DA’s John Steenhuisen who has 225,000 followers.
The data for the study which was analysed over the course of a year from December 21, 2022 to December 31, 2023 focuses more on aspects compared to earlier editions and sheds light on important factors such as accountability, trust, humanisation and relevance in online engagement.
Despite Facebook's popularity in South Africa as a social media platform, Decode Communications specifically highlighted X (formerly known as Twitter) due to its news-oriented nature and its popularity among journalists, politicians and public figures.
Given its real-time communication capabilities and role in fostering discourse, consumer activism and social mobilisation; X is considered a platform for understanding interactions between the government and the public.
This study holds significance because it aligns with South Africa's commitment to democracy.
Since endorsing the Open Government Partnership (OGP) Declaration of Principles in 2011; South Africa has been striving to improve transparency, promote participation and ensure accountability.
The study supports these objectives by offering insights into the ways leaders and their representatives interact with citizens, shaping policies and services.
The report highlights the role of leadership in utilising media for effective communication.
It suggests that the Government Communication and Information Systems (GCIS) and other senior officials should strategically incorporate media into their communication strategies.
This includes allocating budgets for campaigns integrating media into service delivery planning, making it a standard practice among government communicators and ensuring adherence to legal regulations.
In terms of public sentiment, Zizi Kodwa, Minister of Sport, Arts and Culture, leads with the highest positive sentiment, closely followed by Patricia De Lille and Panyaza Lesufi.
On the other end of the spectrum, Lindiwe Zulu, Minister of Social Development, tops the list for negative sentiment, along with Bheki Cele and Pravin Gordhan (Minister of Public Enterprises), both of whom are not on X, followed by Khumbudzo Ntshavheni and Gwede Mantashe.
The report also sheds light on the most influential government leaders, noting Naledi Pandor's high engagement, despite her absence from X.
Her engagement was driven by significant events like the issue of the Russian President’s attendance at the BRICS Summit and the Israel-Palestinian conflict.
Clayson Monyela, head of diplomacy in International Relations, emerged as the most engaged spokesperson, with high positive sentiment.
The study also highlights key conversation topics. Energy, dominated by Ministers Mantashe, Pravin Gordhan, and Dr Kgosientsho Ramokgopa, was a primary subject, alongside crime and safety, with Minister Bheki Cele as a focal point.
President Ramaphosa’s online presence generated mixed sentiments.
Positive highlights include the BRICS Summit in South Africa, discussions on global issues like climate change, and actions against Israel for war crimes.
Negative sentiments arose from issues like the Hammanskraal water crisis, the electricity situation, and the perceived neglect of whistle-blowers.
Gwede Mantashe's online engagement peaked, with various mentions, including positive sentiments for meetings with international leaders and support for coal energy.
However, widespread frustration was evident regarding load shedding and its impact on businesses and livelihoods, coupled with accusations of sabotage and whistle-blower silencing.
Panyaza Lesufi's online presence also garnered mixed reactions.
Positive sentiment was associated with government-led projects and investments in infrastructure.
However, he faced criticism for proposals like state-funded funerals for celebrities and opening new taverns, raising concerns about societal impacts and government priorities.