Above: Abahlali Basemjondolo with GOLDCO, distributing food parcels to families affected by COVID-19.
By : Mbalenhle.N.F Mkhize
It is no secret that the coronavirus has affected everybody in South Africa and the world in general, but the fact remains that people’s experiences differ based on their geographic location and class. Who stays where? Who has what? And how well can they afford? This is a documented story of people’s realities under the eThekwini Municipality and the surrounding areas.
Current Community realities during the Covid-19 outbreak
The reality is the majority of people in urban areas specifically in the suburban areas (Umhlanga, Durban North, Glenwood, Kloof, Hillcrest, LaLucia and etc) own businesses, are permanently employed by big companies or government. Therefore meaning that people living in these areas are either in the upper class or middle class and they can afford to buy their own essential goods without much hassle, the majority if not all have, their own cars and if not can afford cabs (Uber, Bolt and etc), which makes traveling for them easier.
People in the semi-urban/ peri-urban areas which are townships (Umlazi, Ntuzuma, Inanda, Kwamashu and etc) and surrounding suburban areas (Phoenix, New lands, Isiphingo and etc). where unemployment is overshadowing young people’s dreams and aspirations, there are few big business owners and a great number of small business owners who are striving for a breakthrough, amongst those who are employed a few have job security. Therefore, placing people here under the working class and underprivileged and only a few can afford to buy their own essential goods, the majority are depending on social grants and the majority of people use public transport.
This is a similar case in rural areas such as Kwamakhutha, Inanda, Umzinyathi, Amatata, Adams, Umkhomazi, etc. These areas mostly plagued by high unemployment, well-developed infrastructure, and the industry is far from them, meaning people will have to travel far to look for jobs and supermarkets to look for food. The bread-winners are grandmothers who are surviving on social grants and some households are child-headed. The business owners that people can relate to are Spaza shop owners who themselves might not be South African by birth. This then means there are few people who have their own transport and there is limited access to public transport.
This paints the picture that the people who suffer the most during the lockdown are people from the townships and rural areas. The majority of people if not all get paid end of the month which means during that time Supermarkets are overcrowded which puts people at a greater risk to get infected with the Coronavirus. The food parcels that were organized by the government cannot reach everybody, which creates space for dishonesty where the determining factor of who gets the food is the one that is related and closest to the Ward Councillor not the one who needs it the most. The local clinics are overcrowded with people seeking for help who cannot afford private health care, the people are made to wait outside the clinic gates for hours and most of them are not respecting the COVID-19 regulations of social distancing. This does not only put the patients’ lives at risk, but it also disadvantages the clinic staff, which continues to make people in these areas vulnerable to the coronavirus.
Tertiary Institutions and Schools versus Covid-19
There is no telling when tertiary institutions and schools might open, but what we know is that while private colleges and private schools continue to do their work online the lives of the underprivileged children at a standstill. The question would be how would the schooling system resume without putting a strain on the curriculum and the learners themselves? Will the government decide to merge the missed terms together or will they move on with the calendar as per the curriculum? The decision in relation to the curriculum is not yet known, but the decision on resuming the schools has been made the schools are opening with teachers and learners in Grade 7 and Grade 12 will go to school on the first of June. Whether what impact will opening the schools have on the spreading of the virus, will depend on how the schools will be functioning under the Department of Education’s supervision and respecting of the lockdown regulations.
The role of the civil society during the lockdown
The civil society has a responsibility to ensure that citizens fully understand the regulations of the lockdown and that they remain safe at all times. They also have the responsibility to their employees ensuring that they are fully equipped to work from home and that people don’t lose their jobs due to the COVID-19 pandemic. DDP partners such as Zethembe Wenze Umehluko working at Kwamhlabuyalingana and the Youth Inter-Active working around eThekwini Municipality, are working alongside the National Development Agency to ensure that citizens remain informed and are following the safety measures during the lockdown. Other partners such as Lindelani Youth Forum have distributed food parcels at Lindelani (Ntuzuma section A) and surrounding areas and Children Have a Dream (CHAD) has distributed food parcels in Sydenham, Newlands East, Wentworth, Verulam, and Parlock informal settlement. DDP has also partnered with Africa Unite and Lindelani Youth Forum through hosting online dialogues based on themes that relate to each month for example Freedom Day, Africa Month, Youth Month and etc with citizens from across the country.
It is important for civil society organizations to understand that no matter their organizational objectives, it is will be useful for people in their organizational and individual capacity to assist where they can with as little as they can afford to make a difference one way or another.
Defending Human rights during the COVID-19 pandemic
Preserving human rights is not only the responsibility of the government and civil society but it is the responsibility of all sectors and the people in general. It is mostly the responsibility of community members to ensure that the rights of people living with disabilities alongside women and children’s rights are not violated behind closed doors during the lockdown. Social media has been vocal about the cruelty of the South African Police Services (SAPS) and the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) towards people in townships and rural areas during the lockdown. Although some of these citizens were breaking the lockdown regulations, one cannot ignore the fact that their rights were violated when they were kicked, chased, and made to do extreme exercises on the streets. One cannot ignore the fact that living conditions and hunger were one of the reasons why people could not remain calm and stay at home at the beginning of the lockdown.
Another human rights violation that we need to be aware of is the women, children, and people living with disabilities that are stuck with their abusers and molesters in their own homes during the lockdown. Perhaps the government and various civil society organizations that work with vulnerable groups, should develop a plan in partnership with the SAPS to remove and prosecute the perpetrators. Should it be a case of lack of substantial evidence against the perpetrators, the victims should be taken to a safe center should anything like this ever happen in the future.
State recovery – looking beyond the pandemic
Moving forward the government needs to be prepared for any health crisis that will follow after the coronavirus, as South Africans and the world, in general, we are not new to an emerging health crisis, HIV/AIDS killed so many people in the late 90s and early 2000s in South Africa. Therefore, it is always important for the government and other sectors outside the government to be prepared. There need to be campus clinics in all Universities and Colleges with sufficient youth-friendly services, to avoid overcrowding in community clinics. This would help minimize death and limit the straining of health workers in communities and beyond, as we would have the capacity and manpower to tackle any upcoming diseases. All companies and other sectors should strengthen health and safety regulations to protect the employer and employee from all potential risks.
The President announced that from the 1st of June 2020, the country would move to level 3 of the lockdown regulations which means nationally all economic activities will be open guided by the lockdown regulations. This means that alcohol will be sold for home consumption under strict conditions, specified days, and formatted hours. There is no doubt that opening up the economy is good for South Africa; it is good for all the people who work in this industry to feed their families and it prevents major job losses and threats to famine. However, it is vital to look at the threat alcohol might cause to vulnerable communities whose people are unsupervised and live in overcrowded areas.
Politically, all political parties should recognize that they have a role to play and that their role doesn’t only remain in parliament; political parties should not only be visible during campaigning for the election and a national crisis such as this is not only the responsibility of the ANC but they have a responsibility to serve those who elected them above and beyond. Lobby companies to invest in the youth through investing in youth-led small businesses and enterprises, develop more apprentice training and internships and Bursaries for deserving underprivileged students.
Socially all sectors should be working towards achieving social cohesion and in order for social cohesion to happen everybody should be willing to put on the work. The government needs to strengthen the borders to limit the influx of illegal immigrants, overpopulations, and slums to avoid further divisions of people stepping on each other’s toes when trying to make ends meet.
Civil society organizations such as DDP should host online platforms of engagement for citizens and encourage citizens to stay active via social media platforms and any other online platforms to get their voices heard and voice out any injustices that may occur during the lockdown (e.g. anonymous reporting and online petitions). One of the online platforms that are useful and cost-effective is WhatsApp, DDP will be using this platform to engage citizens in a dialogue form during the lockdown. All citizens need to recognize that with rights come responsibilities and there are things that the government cannot do for us that we can do for ourselves. Keeping each other safe during the different stages of the lockdown is important and we should make a habit of reporting illegal activities that may hinder our economy and ourselves and not to make a habit of complaining amongst ourselves with no action and follow-up.
By Mbalenhle.N.F Mkhize | DDP’s Partner Liaison Officer, she writes in her personal capacity