A new survey report by research group Afrobarometer shows that a large number of South Africans are willing to give up some of their freedoms if it means increased security.
The survey was based on face-to-face interviews across more than 30 African countries, with sample sizes of between 1,200-2,400 per country.
The report found that one common government strategy for limiting freedoms is to claim that it is necessary to curtail individual liberties to protect public security.
“These measures may be used to monitor political opponents, restrict competition, and limit dissent and public voice expressed through protest or other collective action,” the researchers said.
“But in the context of spreading threats from violent extremists on the continent, the security argument could become increasingly persuasive.”
The survey responses indicate a significant willingness to trade freedom for security – though some kinds of restrictions appear more acceptable than others.
When looking at privacy of communications, the researchers found that a slim majority (53%) stands for people’s right ‘to communicate in private without a government agency reading or listening to what they are saying’.
However, a substantial minority (43%) are instead willing to accept that ‘government should be able to monitor private communications … to make sure that people are not plotting violence’.
More than two-thirds back the right to private communication in Zimbabwe (69%), Gabon (69%), and Sudan (67%), all countries where civil liberties are still contested, as well as in Zambia (67%), where growing restrictions have raised widespread apprehensions.
60% of South African respondents said that they support the right to private communications while, while 36% of South Africans said they support the government’s rights to monitor communications.
The survey shows that there is also wide support for exchanging freedom of movement for security.
Only about one in three Africans (35%) say that even when their country is faced with security threats, ‘people should be free to move about the country at any time of day or night’.
A solid majority (62%) would instead accept government-imposed curfews and roadblocks under these circumstances.
Slim majorities support free movement in only four countries: Zimbabwe (54%), South Africa (53%), Cabo Verde (52%), and Tanzania (50%).
Tanzania is the only country where support for free movement is significantly higher than support for privacy of communications (a 16 percentage-point gap), although support for free movement is also three points higher in Kenya.
Fewer than one in five respondents prefer free movement to government restrictions in Tunisia (18%), Mali (17%), Ghana (16%), and Madagascar (15%).