An Afrobarometer survey on individual rights and liberties in the African continent says there has been a substantial decline in freedom of association for South Africans, with 64% of the survey’s respondents saying people have to be careful about which political organisations they join.
The report, which was released on Tuesday, says freedom to associate has decreased even in several of the continent’s leading democracies like South Africa where there was a decline of 7%.
This was while the survey conducted between 2016 and 2018 found that South Africans reject government’s advances on encroaching private communication in the name of protecting national security, imposing curfews in case of national instability and government’s right to regulate religious speech in order to prevent spreading of toxic religious views that may threaten internal security.
Looking at trading freedom for national security purposes, the survey responses indicated a significant willingness to trade off freedom for security, though some kinds of restrictions appear more acceptable than others, with 53% of polled South Africans saying even when faced with security threats, people should be free to move about the country at any time of day or night.
Asked whether government should be able to monitor private communications, for example on mobile phones, to make sure that people are not plotting violence, 60% of those polled rejected the idea while 36 percent said they were fine with the idea as long as it is intended to stabilize the country while the rest were undecided.
Polled on support freedom of movement against government right to impose curfews if faced with threats to public security whether people should be free to move about the country at any time of day or night, 53% of the South Africans said the people should be able to move freely.
On the right to support absolute freedom of religious worship versus government right to regulate religious speech, a majority of 59% of South Africans said they freedom of religion and worship are absolute, meaning that government should never limit what is said in a place of worship.
This was while 37% of the respondents said the government should have the power to regulate what is said in places of worship, especially if preachers or congregants threaten public security.
In the same survey, 63% of polled South Africans said there is a need for caution in talking about politics. About these findings on talking about politics, Afrobarometer said the findings on this reinforces the concerns raised above about closing space.
“Publics are much less confident about their freedom to engage in political speech than in other kinds of speech,” reads part of the findings.
Asked about how often in the country do people have to be careful about how they vote in an election, 68% of South Africans said there is a need for caution.