Controversy in the Time of COVID: A Qualitative Content Analysis of Three Case Studies from South African Online News Sites

Ruth Teer-Tomaselli


The coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19), first identified in 2019 and still raging at the time of writing in 2021, has impacted on every sphere of life in every country. This situation is almost unprecedented apart from the two World Wars of the 20th Century and has pervaded both the mainstream media (print, broadcast and online) and social media. This article surveys the media reporting and representation of various controversies in the first few months of the lockdown in South Africa, from 23 March to 17 August 2020. It is based on a content analysis of articles culled from two aggregated online news sites, ( and the South African Independent Online (IOL) ( After an initial survey of the material, three dominant themes were chosen on which to focus: the manner in which the security forces, made up of the South African Police (SAP) and sections of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF), enforced the lockdown in its early phases; the ban placed on alcohol and tobacco products during the first three levels of the lockdown; and the highly controversial deployment of medical staff from Cuba who came to South Africa in order to aid South African medical personnel. These themes were purposely chosen for their dominance in the news coverage of COVID-19 related controversies.

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