Up against “COVID-19” and “Jerusalema”, the word “Lockdown” has come out on top as South Africa’s word of the year for 2020.
The Pan South African Language Board (PanSALB) announced in a statement that the word has been used across the country a total 486,224 times this year. This is unusually high, even when it comes to words of the year. In comparison, last year’s top word, “Zondo Commission” was only used about 30,000 times.
The word of the year is described as a word, term, or an expression that reflects the passing year in the form of language.
PanSALB tracked the use of different words in print media, broadcast media, and online from October 2019 until September this year to determine the shortlist. They also took into consideration nominations from the public.
According to Ntombenhle Huluhulu, spokesperson for PanSALB, finalising this year’s winner was not an easy process as the country’s vocabulary has grown over the year. “This year in fact we’ve had to expand our criteria as well, to check words that have cultural significance and have changed how we live our lives right now,” she said.
The shortlist of words did not come as a surprise to the members of PanSALB as COVID-19 has shaken the world and changed the everyday lives of all South Africans.
However Huluhulu told ENCA that the word “Jerusalema” was welcomed as a word of positivity during a difficult time.
“Amidst a pandemic South Africans were able to inspire a dance craze,” she said. “This is just who we are, it is being South African. We always find joy in the toughest of times and it just speaks to the resilience of our spirit.”
On March 23 this year, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced a national lockdown in an effort to control the spread of COVID-19 in South Africa and flatten the curve.
While the World Health Organization commended South Africa’s immediate response to the pandemic, the national lockdown proceeded to have a negative impact on the economy and the livelihoods of citizens.
As part of the lockdown regulations, non-essential industries were to shut down in order to curb the spread of the virus at work. This resulted in most of the economy shutting down.
According to the Wall Street Journal, the lockdown knocked the economy down by 51% in the second quarter of this year, and has resulted in the country’s worst quarterly decline in at least a century. Statistics South Africa also reported that 2.2 million jobs were lost as a result of COVID-19 and the economy shutting down during the lockdown period.
The national lockdown also exposed the widening gap in inequality between the highest and the lowest earners in the country. In 2019 South Africa was announced as the most unequal country in the world and the pandemic has only worsened the country's inequality.
While presenting a socio-economic impact report administered by the United Nations Development Programme, resident coordinator of the UN in South Africa, Nardos Bekele-Thomas, pointed out that the country’s poor can only get poorer as a result of the pandemic.
“One of the key findings of the study is the awareness that individuals are susceptible to transition from one level of poverty to an even lower one, such as the vulnerable middle class, to reduce the likelihood of slipping into poverty,” she said.
COVID-19 and the lockdown have also had a serious impact on South Africans’ mental health, with a recent study highlighting that citizens are 56% more stressed and anxious because of the pandemic.