The Right to Life
It would appear that President Ramaphosa is taking the necessary steps to safeguard lives. Many pundits are heaping praise on him for displaying decisive leadership in preventing the further spread of Covid-19. A detailed reading of these government measures reveal a picture that does not address the needs of the nation, on the contrary, the measures reflect the glaring class, racial and gender divisions of our country.
It must be noted that all the original infections were a result of people engaged in international travel to countries that were already reporting cases of COVID-19. Most of these people would have had money and/or medical aid and as such would have undergone testing at private health care facilities. Reports indicate that patients testing at these private health care centres are waiting up to a week for their test results.
South Africa is now at stage 4 of this pandemic which translates into community level local transmissions. This would include all those who came into contact with these travelers, such as aircraft cleaners, baggage handlers, airport staff, and shuttle and uber drivers. All of whom it may be assumed is infected. Given the 2 week incubation period for COVID-19, the next two weeks will see an exponential increase in community level local transmissions. President Ramaphosa is fully aware of the economic impact of COVID-19, and thus presented the nation with a series of measures seemingly aimed at mitigating the effects.
He announced that all workers, with the exception of essential workers and those engaged in food production, must stay at home for 21 days. Any business which is adversely affected by COVID-19 will be able to access funding to mitigate any financial distress. And yet, the farm workers that produce the food, workers that transport these items to the factories, and the workers that transport these items from the factories to Pick n Pay and Shoprite and the workers in these shops will still have to be in the workplace. Reports indicate that many of these workers are not supplied with protective gear. All these workers make use of trains, busses and taxis. They all face the risk of exposure and the potential for the further spreading of COVID-19. His intervention says nothing about the measures that will be undertaken to safeguard these workers.
Exactly who will be staying at home and what will be the experience of staying at home? The rich and middle class will have sufficient food for the next 21 days and access to WIFI to coordinate and plan their selfish existence. Imagine the next 21 days for a typical family living in an overcrowded tin shack in Blikkiesdorp, in heat conditions, with inadequate access to water and a lack of food security. Imagine the next 21 days for a family living in the Pink Flats in Bishop Lavis, or the densely populated overcrowded housing in Mitchells Plain, or the densely packed shacks in Khayelitsha. Now imagine Soweto, Alexandra and the countless working class communities trapped in poverty and a low wage economy.
A closer examination of this plan does not speak about the thousands of informal traders, mostly female, who will be unable to access funding. This plan does not include the unemployed who have no means of income for the next 21 days. This plan does not include the millions of South Africans who have no food security. This plan does not include the millions of working class women who are struggling to feed their families prior to COVID-19. This plan does not include the sick, the elderly and the impaired. In fact, it is clear that this plan caters to big business that will continue to make profits, it caters for the workers in the formal economy who will still be expected to work, it caters for the middle class who already have been in self-isolation for the last week. Millions of working class people thus fall outside these measures adopted by the ANC regime.
There is no plan for the mass production and distribution of masks, sanitisers, soap, and food for the next 21 days, directly delivered to the working class. In the absence of these lifesaving necessities, the longer the working class is confined to their overcrowded shacks, the increased risk for the intensification of conflict and violence. As in Southern Italy, we will be witness to food riots and looting as people become more desperate for food. Rape and violence against women and children will also increase. The majority of the affected working class will be black and poor and female. The South African National Defence Force, since their deployment 18 July 2019 could not contain the War on the Cape Flats. It is thus foolish thinking and criminally naïve to hope that the SANDF can contain the expected mass food riots. The warlords and drug merchants who have access to weapons are likely to exploit this crisis even further. Meanwhile, our elected leaders have shutdown the National Assembly and National Council of Provinces under VIP protection, all protected from the consequences of this plan.
The steps required to stop the further spread of COVID-19
- Mass production and distribution of masks, sanitisers and soap
- Free, mass testing for COVID-19
- Immediate daily delivery of food, medication and water to the working class.
- Immediate nationalisation of private hospitals and health care facilities
- Confiscate all food held by Agri Business and supply fresh fruit and vegetables to the working class, the unemployed, the sick, the elderly, women children and the impaired
- Immediate suspension of rent and bond payments for the duration of the pandemic
- Immediate cancellation of all debts
- Immediate cancellation of all interest obligations of the working class
- Immediate free WIFI and data for the working class
- Immediate increase in child grants, disability grants and pensions
- Immediate payment of a basic income grant to the unemployed
The next vector for community level local transmissions are all the workers who were paid after 25 March and stood in long lines for food, all the pensioners who stood in lines for their grants, all the patients who attended day hospitals in the last week, law enforcement and soldiers in the last week not wearing masks and gloves, all the addicts roaming the streets, all the gang members still operating and drug merchants still selling drugs. 10 000 field workers is totally insufficient to trace all these potentially infected people.
What is therefore required is the mass mobilisation of all state resources to be placed on a war footing. All food resources located in the private sector must be confiscated by the state and placed at the disposal of the working class and not another half-baked measure on the part of the ANC regime to placate big business and retain the support of the middle class. The millions excluded from this plan, the wretched of South Africa, expected to confine themselves to a 5×5 shack or overcrowded flats will have to make do with charity from philanthropists. Lockdown porn is on full display with liberals handing out food parcels in the townships, taking selfies while the recipients display grateful smiles, all with no masks and gloves. We, therefore, call on the working class to unite and demand the right to life for all. We call on the working class to practice physical distance where possible and social solidarity, as opposed to middle class social distancing. Immediately establish street committees, identify women, children, elderly, sick and the impaired. Identify all the abusers who will use this opportunity to hurt women and children now confined. Moreover, SAPS and the SANDF must arrest all the gang leaders and drug merchants who are still terrorising working class communities. Let us take care of each other through our street committees and let us show the world how the working class in South Africa practices revolutionary love and compassion.
AK Matthews (Post Grad Student in Disability Studies – UCT)
Bishop Lavis Action Community
The views expressed here are the author’s personal opinion and do necessarily reflect the editorial policy of The Daily Vox.