Crisis lays bare how government has failed the poor people of this country

Mbuyiselo Botha Gender Imbizo
A child empties a bucket of waste water among shacks during a 21-day nationwide lockdown to limit the spread of coronavirus disease in Khayelitsha township near Cape Town. / AFP / LUCA SOLA
A child empties a bucket of waste water among shacks during a 21-day nationwide lockdown to limit the spread of coronavirus disease in Khayelitsha township near Cape Town. / AFP / LUCA SOLA

At the moment, I am consumed by former president Thabo Mbeki's statement, which said: "South Africa is a country divided into two nations - the relatively prosperous whites, and the black and poor people living under grossly underdeveloped conditions."

The white nation, "relatively prosperous regardless of gender or geographic dispersal - it has ready access to a developed economy, physical, educational communication and other infrastructure".

He goes on to say: "The larger nation of South Africa is black and poor, with the worst affected being women in rural areas, the black rural population in general and those with disabilities.

"And this nation lives under conditions of a grossly underdeveloped economic, physical, educational, communication and other infrastructure."

This statement rings true when one looks at the impact of Covid-19 and how one's ability to protect themselves from contracting the virus or even taking care of themselves with the virus has a lot to do with class - which is closely intertwined with race.

Covid-19 has a much smaller chance of rapidly spreading in leafy suburbs. The picture is likely to be different in townships and informal settlements, with higher, dense populations.

A video of a man who lives in an informal settlement made the rounds on social media. He spoke to the soldiers and said he has no access to sanitiser, toilets in his community are utilised by multiple other people, so this lockdown is irrelevant to him - as his lived conditions and of those around him are not conducive to social distancing and other hygienic requirements. And he is right.

The scenario this man paints exposes the consequences of government's failure to deal with structural and socioeconomic challenges . I think the seeming despondence of some citizens is rooted in the state's disregard of their communities during "normal" times. This is the double whammy impoverished people are facing. This perennial failure of government's service to them is compounded by this virus.

Communities without running water. It's not a new problem. Overcrowded communities sharing mobile, unhygienic ablution facilities? Not a new problem.

They are just in the centre now because they could hugely impact on the spread of this virus.

While many were lamenting how full shopping centres became, the truth is, many people were not only waiting for payday, but many also depend on jobs that pay per job or weekly. Unlike whites, they could not stay off work to prepare nor did they have money available to access goods mid-month.

My parting shot is that the structural realities embedded in our society, characterised by inequality, unemployment and apartheid spatial engineering, will have huge consequences that would otherwise have been avoidable or at least manageable. The failure to deal with the structural challenges we inherited extends itself into situations many of us would never have thought of.

This pandemic has laid bare just how bad things are. This stood out even more when I saw people trying to get to work because their bosses said, "no work, no pay", and it is the type of labour one cannot do from home. Their health comes secondary to their ability to earn a wage. All the while there is a sector of our society who have jobs that offer them safety nets, and afford them the opportunity to say, "a job is not worth my life".

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