Government Communication and Information System (GCIS) Director-General, Phumla Williams, says robust communication research was crucial to South Africa’s successful efforts to curb the spread of Coronavirus.

“Communications during COVID-19 demanded that we quickly adapt or face life and death consequences. We were responsible for empowering citizens with information that enabled them to take individual responsibility in the fight against the onslaught of COVID-19,” Williams said on Monday.

Delivering the opening remarks during a webinar on the latest findings of the COVID-19 Communications Impact Research, the DG said research findings offered guidance in understanding the social and public health implications of the pandemic, and in turn, allowed government to respond to the information needs of the public.

The webinar also highlighted the impact of government communication efforts in curbing the spread of COVID-19, and encouraging public uptake of the vaccine programme.

Williams said government’s research findings allowed them to adjust their communication to the needs of citizens.

“We fused the intelligence from our Government Segmentation Model with communications research to ensure that we not only provided South Africans with relevant information on the pandemic but that we also guided them on life decisions, such as complying with preventative measures and accessing much needed government support to cushion the effect of the devastation caused by COVID-19,” she said.

Williams praised the strong team of women at the helm of communications research in the GCIS, saying they rose to the challenge of COVID-19.

She said their work has ensured that government communications is always informed by evidence-based research that ensures a connection with citizens.

Williams said at the beginning of the pandemic, the GCIS had worked with the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO) and the Department of Health (DOH) on the repatriation of South Africans from Wuhan, China.

“Communication was critical in every step of the complex operation to manage fears, expectations, emotions and opportunistic false news.”

She commended the country’s resilience, which saw citizens coming together to fight for survival. 

“From business, to labour and civil society, we all converged under the patronage of the National Communication Partnership to implement the COVID-19 national communications campaign.

“We would like to thank all our partners who widened the reach of the communication campaign which served as a baobab tree providing hope and positivity, shielding many from the harsh and unsympathetic realities unleashed by the COVID-19 pandemic,” she said.

Williams said the findings of the AskAfrica research, in partnership with the GCIS, is an analysis of conversations with South Africans across the country about the pandemic and public views on government’s management of the COVID-19 pandemic, including the vaccine rollout plan.

“As South Africans, many of these [findings] should not come as a surprise to us, as we form part of the collective of the country that fought well against the pandemic.

“These insights serve as a knowledge deposit and take the country forward as we implement the Economic Reconstruction and Recovery Plan,” she said.