IFAS-Research Newsletter/ Informality and Covid-19 in South Africa

Informality and Covid-19 in South Africa

As part of its scientific and academic vocation, and in the context of the health crisis linked to the coronavirus, IFAS-Research has launched a collective research project with the aim of understanding the effects of the 2020 pandemic on informal workers in South Africa.

To this end, in June 2020, IFAS-Research has called upon Dr. Chaymaa Hassabo, Associate Researcher at the Department of Sociology of the University of Johannesburg (UJ), to design and coordinate a field survey with a team of four young researchers from Southern Africa. Her ambition was to measure the social and economic effects of the pandemic on informal workers, who make up nearly 30% of the country’s workforce, in the light of their life trajectories.

This survey, based on quantitative and qualitative data collected during 204 questionnaire interviews and 51 in-depth interviews, proposes a micro-sociological approach of the health crisis.

The project, carried out in difficult conditions between August and October, will hopefully be extended, deepened and cross-checked in 2021 with other locally conducted studies, in partnership with South African academic centres.

November 19th: Organisation of a seminar entitled “Informality in times of Covid-19. The impact of the 2020 pandemic on vulnerable workers in South Africa”

On November 19th, IFAS-Research organised a seminar as part of the “Informality and Covid-19 in South Africa” project launched a few months ago. The main results of this research were presented and discussed. Based on the quantitative and qualitative data collected during the interviews with vulnerable workers – from car guards to street vendors and waste reclaimers –, the researchers presented the main results of the survey, which show the impoverishment of the vast majority of informal workers during the months of ‘hard lockdown’, with an average loss of 50% of income.

The results emphasised the solidarity networks mobilised by the respondents (family assistance, food distribution by churches and NGOs). Only one third of the respondents reportedly received direct assistance from the authorities. The researchers also highlighted the fate of foreign workers (4.2 million in 2019), excluded from government aid and especially vulnerable during the health crisis. Finally, the study showed the respondents’ difficulties in organising themselves collectively (only 16% are affiliated to trade unions); they had to rely on their personal networks to survive and, in the majority of cases, implement individual strategies. The researchers also found forms of resilience and adaptation (change of activity, mobilisation of networks, etc.) that are inseparable from informality. To this extent, the crisis linked to the pandemic appears as “one more vulnerability” and not as a major disruption for many of these informal workers, whose precariousness predates 2020.


10: 30 – 10:45: Welcome & Opening remarks: Address by the French Ambassador to South Africa, H.E. Aurélien Lechevallier.

10:50 – 11:15: Premiere of the documentary “What am I going to eat tomorrow?” Informal Workers during the Covid-19 pandemic in Johannesburg

11:15 – 11:45: Debate and discussion.

11:45 – 13h30: Lunch break.

13:30 – 17 h 00 

  • Scientific presentations and discussion

Chaymaa Hassabo: “Informality, lockdown and life trajectories”.
Celestine Jade Padayachee and Bianca Thandeka Mcameni: “Quantitative analysis of informal sector during lockdown”.
Celestine Jade Padayachee: “Studying the informal sector: A Reflection as a first-time Researcher.
Bianca Thandeka Mcameni: “The business of Food during Covid-19 lockdown: The Covid-19 experience of food delivery guys”.
Edson Chido Mutisi: “The lockdown came as a surprise, but we had savings, side jobs and families to lean on”.
Ndipiwe Mkuzo: “A Covid-19 survey in Cape Town. Research experience and feedback”
Dostin Lakika: “The impact of Covid-19 on foreigners’ menial jobs”.

  • 2021 perspectives.

The Documentary: “What am I going to eat tomorrow?” Informal workers during the Covid-19 pandemic in Johannesburg

An idea emerged along the way: the production of a documentary film based on four filmed interviews. This documentary aims to give a voice to informal workers and to understand in a concrete way how the pandemic has impacted their daily lives. The film, produced by IFAS-Research in partnership with a Johannesburg production company (Black Gosling), gives a concrete and sensitive insight into their work and living conditions during the lockdown.

The documentary, entitled What am I going to eat tomorrow?” Informal workers during the Covid-19 pandemic in Johannesburg, was launched during the seminar, in the presence of the French Ambassador to South Africa, Mr. Aurélien Lechevallier, the First Counsellor of the Embassy, Mr. Emmanuel Suquet, as well as the Cultural Counsellor and Director of the French Institute of South Africa, Mr. Bruno Asseray.

It is available on IFAS-Research’s YouTube channel:


We wish you a nice viewing!