Traffic, shopping and spending: Here is how far SA still is from 'normal'

Business Insider SA
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  • South African economic activity is still some way away from pre-lockdown levels, judging from various data points.
  • Google data shows shopping trips to grocery stores and pharmacies are still 15% below "normal" levels.
  • Activity in the Western Cape - worst hit by Covid-19 deaths - is far lower than in the rest of the country.
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Only a handful of sectors are not yet allowed to do business under Level 3, but it is clear from South Africa's highways and malls the economy is not yet firing on all cylinders.

Economists are divided about how long it will take for the economic activity to return to where it was before the crisis.

There were some promising signs, for example demand for diesel was already close to pre-lockdown levels at the end of May, the South African Petroleum Industry Association (Sapia) reported.

But Hyprop, which owns some of South Africa's biggest malls like Rosebank, Hyde Park Corner and Somerset, reported average foot traffic at its malls were still 24% lower in the first week of June compared to the same time last year.

Here is what we know about how far we are from "normal":


The latest Google Mobility Data - which tracks "aggregated, anonymised" data from users who have activated their location on their phones - shows South Africans' trips to their workplaces are now only 6% below the "baseline" (the month to 6 February). During the first phase of lockdown, workplace visits were down 80%.

Source: Google

But in the Western Cape, which is suffering the vast majority of coronavirus deaths in the country, trips to workplaces are still down 21%.

In Gauteng, workplace trips are down 8%, and in KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape, workplace visits are also down. But data showed in the Free State, Limpopo, Mpumalanga, the North West and Northern Cape, workplace trips were back to normal, according to Google data.


In May, the number of transactions handled by banks was 9% lower than the same month in the previous year. The average value per transaction declined by 15% in nominal terms, according to BankservAfrica's Economic Transaction Index (BETI).


At the end of March, shopping trips to grocery stores and pharmacies were down 56% from normal levels - this had recovered to "only" 15% below pre-lockdown in the second week of June, according to Google data. But in the Western Cape, shopping trips are still 26% down from the usual levels.

Source: Google

Visits to restaurants and other non-food retailers are still 40% below pre-lockdown levels.

Small businesses

South African payment provider Yoco, which provides bank card readers for small businesses, has been tracking the turnover of these companies throughout the lockdown. At the start of lockdown, sales were at 9% of pre-lockdown levels. This has recovered to around half to 60% - but this differs across provinces:

Source: Yoco

Agricultural exports

The agriculture and food sector was one of the few that might not be as hard hit by the coronavirus crisis, said agricultural economist Wandile Sihlobo.

In fact - despite a ban on wine exports during the first phase of lockdown - South Africa's agricultural exports could increase this year, thanks to citrus and a bumper maize crop.

Data from various commodity organisations and agricultural institutions pointed to continued robust agricultural exports over the past couple of weeks, Sihlobo said.


Open-cast mines have been allowed to operate at 100% capacity since the start of May, but deep-level mines were only allowed to move from 50% to full capacity from 1 June.

Covid-19 outbreaks have halted production at some mines, with Harmony Gold saying it expected to be back to full production by around the middle of July, Reuters reported.

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