No to a Militarised Lockdown, Presidency must meet Civil Society today
We, as civic organisations, trade unions, organisations of informal workers, faith-based organisations, NGOs and community structures in South Africa, are concerned about the emerging conditions for COVID-19 lockdown in our country. We see military tanks and guns rolling into our communities, but we do not see the rolling out of testing kits, health workers and essential services.
The use of lockdown without the provision of mass testing and essential services like food and water contradicts everything that public health experts have been saying about the containment of the pandemic. Lockdown as a public health strategy cannot work unless it is led by the provision of a good safety net of services and resources which can allow people to remain safely at home.
With no roll out of mass-testing or decent information about their condition, lockdown becomes a punishment not a measure for safety. Lockdown without the mass-provision of services and resources in a society as unequal as ours will mean that middle class and wealthy households will be able to secure their own safety, but poor and working-class families will become desperately vulnerable.
We acknowledge the enormous efforts that many amongst us in civil society and community structures are making to ensure that our people are protected and resourced. We welcome the generosity and care that we have seen extended to others during this time. This organizing and solidarity shows the very best of the human spirit.
But we also note the rising levels of fear and uncertainty, the misinformation, conspiracy theories and the inability of civil society to provide massified essential services on its own. Government must do its duty to protect and care for people by ensuring that the lockdown is fundamentally a public health intervention and not a repressive, militarised moment of social control.
After releasing a Programme of Action in the time of COVID-19 earlier this week, we have been asking for a meeting with the Presidency. After initial indication from the presidency that our mandated delegation would be consulted, we have been on call for three days without any response. Our offer to assist with the coordination of a safe roll-out of essential services to our people has been ignored. We call on the presidency to meet with us before the start of lockdown at midnight tonight.
If we have military and police lockdown without the corresponding provision of basic essential services to people living in already vulnerable conditions, we are likely to see desperate action, protest, and riots met by police and military force. Police Minister Bheki Cele’s report to the national press conference held yesterday was careless and arrogant of the dangers that could await our people during lockdown. The actions to contain the danger of the virus cannot supersede the obligation to ensure basic human rights. If we have learned anything from the HIV/AIDS pandemic in our country it is that public health measures only work if they are grounded in human rights.
We call for the immediate and safe distribution of state and private resources to poor and working-class people to mitigate the vulnerability of lockdown. We call on the private sector to commit to support measures though the repurposing of production for COVID19 prevention and making available health resources, such as ICU beds and equipment, under a nationally coordinated public health response.
We call on the state to assure us that its authoritarian capacities are reigned in and contained. We cannot live through another Marikana.
We call on all organisations, every church, mosque, synagogue and temple, every small business, all neighbours and family members, to take great care of others over the next 21 days, especially those that are most vulnerable. The provision of mutual aid in safe and responsible ways must take place if we are to make it through lockdown with respect, solidarity and kindness to all those with whom we share our worlds. Any lockdown measures must be able to accommodate the care and concern that we want to afford each other at this time as neighbours, friends and fellows.
Noncedo Madubedube, General Secretary: Equal Education, Cell: 0791704656
Mazibuko Kanyiso Jara, Deputy Director: Tshisimani Centre for Activist Education, Cell: 0839879633
BACKGROUND: This statement is issued by an emerging coalition of civil society organisations who issued a Call and Programme of Action in response to the COVID-19 pandemic (the Call was entitled “A Programme of Action in the time of COVID-19: A call for social solidarity in South Africa”). The initial statement was endorsed by 114 organisations. Endorsements keep coming in and now stand at more than 160 organisations. A consolidated final list of endorsements will be released in due course.