It has been over a week since South Africa went into a 21-day lockdown to fight the spread of the deadly Coronavirus and the divide between the haves and the have nots could not be more clear. To curb the disease, health officials advocate social distancing, frequent hand washing and staying at home. For the middle to upper classes this is easy to do; safely ensconced in their leafy suburban homes, only leaving the house to buy groceries before hurriedly returning to their internet and Netflix enabled enclaves.
The experience for poor people couldn’t be more different and not to mention depressing. All around the country, densely populated townships like Alexandra, Umlazi, and Kayelitsha poor people are bearing the brunt of the disease. They are unable to work and earn a living because much of the economy is shut down, social distancing is unheard of since people live cheek to jowl and many informal settlements don’t even have access to running water so hand washing is but a dream. It must be said that the challenges that poor people face in this country predate Covid-19, but the disease has exacerbated an already dire situation.
Around 5 million people lack access to adequate drinking water and more than 10 million don’t have access to proper sanitation. These damning figures are indicative of the scale of the problem government faces in ensuring Covid-19 doesn’t gain a foothold in poor communities. The calls for cleanliness ring hollow to people who don’t have basic services and if government is serious about reducing the spread of the disease, water and sanitation should be one of the main priorities along with healthcare.
While the poor aren’t responsible for bringing the disease into the country, they will suffer the most should the coronavirus spread rapidly through South Africa’s impoverished areas. It is encouraging that the Solidarity fund, which was set up by Government to help the poor has already received R 2 Billion ( $104 million) Those funds should be utilised to purchase masks, sanitizers and food for the most vulnerable in society.
The Covid-19 crisis has highlighted the fissures that exist within South African society; the wealthy have access to doctors and private laboratories for quick testing meanwhile the poorest in society are left to fend for themselves and that should not be allowed to happen.
Testing is key in fighting this disease, health officials need to know who is infected, who their contacts are before they begin to isolate and quarantine Coronavirus patients. President Cyril Ramaphosa announced the country will step up its efforts for to fight the virus through a nationwide mass testing programme. Over 10 thousand healthcare workers will be dispatched to communities around the country identified to be at risk. South Africa currently has a testing capacity of around 5,000 samples a day, according to the health minister Zweli Mkhize, the National Health Laboratory service wants to ramp this up to over 50,000 per day. These measures are welcomed and communities should be actively engaged and also educated about the virus, that is the only way the country can have a chance at beating it.