Covid-19 shows we still see government as our captor

Police arrest street vendor Thandi Thabethe in Soweto for selling atchar without a permit during the lockdown. The writer says for those who are impoverished, the economics of an anti-black capitalist system means risking arrest and police brutality to feed a family right now.
Police arrest street vendor Thandi Thabethe in Soweto for selling atchar without a permit during the lockdown. The writer says for those who are impoverished, the economics of an anti-black capitalist system means risking arrest and police brutality to feed a family right now.
Image: Nonkululeko Njilo

SA is currently the centre of praise and adoration for our government's unexpectedly swift and efficient response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

We are genuinely surprised to see our leaders step up to the plate and take the bull by the horns in a time of crisis. As South Africans we know ourselves to be historically undermined and uncared for people.

The civil liberties and rights we have enjoyed for the smaller part of our existence as a republic were hard earned. There are few good things about SA that were not fought for, and few bad things that were not inherited. Our national identity is inextricably linked to struggle and resistance.

There has never been a government of SA with true intentions of advancing the lives of all its people. The idea of government is to disaggregate, and control people and we have always found ourselves trying to survive our government.

Though the evidence for the legitimacy of our resistance and defiance of our leaders are clearly recorded, we might find it to be one of our biggest disadvantages during this pandemic.

We are not prepared for a government who acts within our best interests, wholly and intentionally, at a time when leadership is our only chance of survival, as evinced by the catastrophe playing out in other parts of the world.

This analysis of our society is also not uniform in its makeup. We have always had two societies to consider; one largely white and wealthy, the other largely black and impoverished. Though the two may tend towards similar modes of resisting government decree, they are not motivated by the same intentions.

Those with privilege have always constructed themselves as a besieged group under attack by a government whose transformation agenda is misconstrued as communism aimed at impoverishing them.

Those without privilege are disillusioned by a government they believed would bring them salvation from oppression through swiftly instituting equality. Both are hellbent on disobeying orders, not always for any reason but to reclaim some semblance of agency.

For those who are impoverished, the economics of an anti-black capitalist system means risking arrest and police brutality to feed a family.

When faced with these various realities, the problem of SA's fragile relationship with government comes down to one thing: the impossibility of leaving it up to citizens to contain the spread of Covid-19. It is unfair to view defiance and disobedience of impoverished people as unthought.

Our leaders have not created the conditions for us to believe them. Resistance and struggle are our colonial inheritances and it is in times like these that we see just how unchanged our relationship with power is. We have always known our leaders to be our captors and our torturers.

The trauma of centuries of begging, demanding and eventually fighting for humanity to prevail in our favour has not left us. We don't know how else to respond. We are a nation of fighters.

With all of this considered, at this time, leaving the containment of this pandemic to us will not end well. It is a shame to see our government rapidly providing the services they have been promising for over 25 years, and although we are pleased, it is reminiscent of the story of the boy who cried wolf.

We have stopped caring about what they say, we have stopped listening to their promises and we have given up on their paternalistic, dishonest leadership.

That all of this has been too little too late may just add another layer of disaster we cannot afford.

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