The Justice Desk
If our South African government was proactive instead of reactive, our people would have adhered to the conditions of the 21-day lockdown way before now. The coronavirus did not come out of the blue. It did not decide to suddenly cause problems right before President Ramaphosa announced the lockdown. We knew it was coming, and we knew that if we continued to operate as normal, that the virus would cause unimaginable harm to our people. In a matter of days, this became true.
As an observer living in a vulnerable township, I watched these events unfold, affecting my stability at work, my daughter’s education and my wife being deemed an essential worker, and I began to ask myself:
"Having known that Covid-19 was coming, why weren’t certain measures already put in place during our President’s annual State of Nation address in February? Why did our government wait for our first confirmed case before putting in such drastic and important measures?
The fact that our government waited more than 1 month to be vocal about the Coronavirus is worrisome, when the evidence of the harm this virus was already causing on a global scale was overwhelming. When I ask these questions, some people have responded saying that “we didn’t want the nation to panic”, but looking at the panic we are currently experiencing, I am afraid those efforts were fruitless.
A proactive stance would have been to focus educating and empowering our people in order to combat Covid-19, starting already in January of 2020. By now, after such educational efforts, all our people would know what the virus is and how to combat it.
Instead, our response was reactive which left little time for our country and people to prepare for the viruses’ arrival. If we had more time, we could have made necessary provisions for our township communities, such as increasing the amount of water given to each marginalised home. With accessible running water, we could have put in place the necessary infrastructure to ensure proper sanitation.
We could have ensured that the homeless were taken to a place of safety beforehand and assisted them in accessing the supplies needed to make it through the 21-day lockdown. Strict measures could have been put in place to limit the spread of the virus, especially in the facilities that house our homeless and elderly.
Prior meetings and plans could have taken place to create an effective system for our public transport use during the lockdown, and ‘Essential Workers’ would not be risking their lives to get to work.
Our security forces could have been trained, educated and upskilled in what to do during high-tension pandemics such as this one, and perhaps those who are abusing and humiliating citizens would have been reminded of the humanity and protocol that is at the heart of their work.
Companies could have had more time to make alternative plans and countless workers would not have lost their jobs. Special education packs could have been delivered to each child, knowing that our schools would close. This would have ensured that the education of our children was ongoing, regardless of internet access.
However, we did not focus on being proactive, we wasted valuable time, and we rather chose to be reactive.
This resulted in great confusion and panic once the virus did hit. People in underserved communities became more susceptible to the spread of the virus due to poor service delivery dating back many, many years. Essential workers are left with transport issues and with management in these essential businesses refusing to step in and assist. The government also opted to close schools for a longer period and before the scheduled date.
We are hearing from ‘Essential Workers’ that they are not being provided with the necessary information, protective gear, and equipment needed to keep them safe while performing their duties. And while some of them travel to complete their essential work, they are stopped by law enforcement officers, some of which are abusing their authority. For non-essential workers, some are being forced to use up all their annual leave, as certain employers are refusing to pay their staff during this time.
Due to pay day being on the same day as lockdown, many people were not able to purchase their essential needs beforehand. And instead of South Africans coming together in love and understanding of the needs of marginalised communities, they are labelled as “selfish”, “stupid” and “irresponsible” for going outside.
Many families have already begun running out of food because “no work, no pay” and children are roaming the streets, having no school to go to, and very little activities indoors to keep them entertained. And before people judge those parents, there is only so much they can do to keep their children entertained in their 3m x 3m shacks.
I am not of the opinion that the lockdown is not needed. It is vital and will save lives. But one thing I do know for sure, is that we could have done so much more for the vulnerable people in our country, should our government have been proactive instead of reactive.
The sad reality is that the effects of this virus, the lockdown and the after-effects will hit the vulnerable and poor the most. We cannot argue this fact. I hope we learn from this experience, and do everything we can to prevent our most vulnerable citizens from having to experience this again. Let us stand together to overcome this horrible virus, and when this has passed, let us continue to stand united to undo the unjust and unequal country we have created.
All views above are that of the author and do not reflect that of the organisation, The Justice Desk.