Happiness index shows South Africans are furious about load shedding – and it could lead to protests | News24

South Africans are expressing anger at the latest round of load shedding.

  • South Africans have expressed increased anger at the latest round of load shedding.
  • A happiness index has found that South Africans are at a low level happiness.
  • Increasing emotions of anger and fear can lead to protests and crime, an expert has warned.

The announcement of Stage 6 load shedding has caused increased feelings of fear, anger and disgust among South Africans, according to an index measuring happiness. And the expert behind the index has warned that should the levels of anger increase, South Africa could face more strikes, protests and crime.

According to data released by the University of Johannesburg (UJ), the overall happiness of South Africans dropped below average on Sunday when Eskom announced Stage 6 power outages.

Based on the Gross National Happiness index, the happiness of South Africans dropped below the average of 6.85 (2022) to 6.44 on Sunday.

The index can measure happiness in real-time using sentiment analysis when applied to a live feed of tweets. It was developed in 2019 by well-being economists Professor Talita Greyling from UJ and Dr Stephanié Rossouw from Auckland University of Technology in New Zealand.

The negative emotions, as seen in the tweets measured, reflected disappointment, anger and distrust of government officials, as well as fear of higher unemployment and poverty. The index hit its lowest level since April 2022 – a month marked by devastating floods and landslides in KwaZulu-Natal alongside load shedding.

READ: Cyril Ramaphosa | To realise our economy’s potential, we need to fix the electricity crisis

The index makes use of natural language processing (machine learning methods) and applies a balancing algorithm to derive happiness and eight emotion measures per hour. It has since been accepted as official statistical data in New Zealand.

The index is important because most economic indicators don’t capture the impact on human emotions and well-being, even though these feelings drive people’s decisions, according to Greyling.

Greyling said measuring human emotions was essential for policy makers because their aim was to increase the well-being of citizens. Income was not an accurate measure of well-being, said Greyling, which was why she and Rossouw developed an index that looked beyond that.

“One way to measure well-being is to ask people how satisfied they are with their lives. It’s a very good indication,” she said.

“You would usually measure this in a survey but that can be costly and time-consuming. So, we turned to Big Data and machine learning, and use them to analyse the sentiment and emotion underlying tweets.”

The index can measure the mood in a country hourly and measures eight different emotions.

The mood among South Africans showed a definite shift after the announcement of Stage 6 load shedding over the weekend, said Greyling, dropping to almost its lowest level since 2020 at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic.

If anger continued to increase, there could be far-reaching consequences, said Greyling.

She added:

How people feel influences how they behave. The index can be used in predictions, and we’ve seen that if people are angry, it could lead to strikes.

Greyling said the index showed anger around the time of former president Jacob Zuma’s imprisonment in 2021, which was followed by unrest and looting that saw more than 300 people die in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng.

She said the analysis showed that South Africans were fed up with what they saw as broken promises by the government and demanded solutions to the growing energy crisis.

“People are unhappy, and the anger is increasing. That could lead to strikes, and we could see an increased crime element with that. People are worried about the economy, unemployment and poverty,” she said.

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