Covid-19 Lockdown the curse of a black township man

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By: Clyde Ramalaine

Speaker of the United States House of Representatives Tipp O Neal told us, “All politics is local.” The truth of this statement rings true in a much wider than the USA assumed space. We are in day four of the presidential announcement that effectively places SA in Covid-19 lockdown. Lockdown as communicated by government officials and ministers directs that all people are confined to the places of residences. During this Lockdown, the mobility of all except those of essential services is restricted and contained to the bare minimum of essential interaction. The objective as we are told is to restrain the spread of the ‘virus’ by physical contact.

However, as days progress it becomes very clear that the lockdown in a coherent plan of implementation remains suspicious and questionable. I also suspect a decision on extending lockdown beyond the proclamation of a 21 day period was already made although the modalities for implementing it is considered in staged phase given the daily unfolding.

For starters, until now there is no structured official communications campaign of education and information sharing to apprise South Africans in languages of their comfort on this virus and the announced lockdown period. With this, we mean simple leaflets accompanied by illustrations that the average person may comfortably understand. We all know the poor often have no access to televisions. I am thus surprised by the fact that the State has nowhere run any comprehensive communications strategy and campaign to educate or inform the masses. They have spent hours in over-reliance on Television interviews giving ministers moments in the proverbial sun to bully, boast and threaten citizens when a comprehensive plan remained absent. In this sense Covid-19 Lockdown, therefore, becomes the curse of the black and poor citizen to gain the necessary access to empowering him/herself on Covid-19.

I am deeply disturbed by the implementation of lockdown in which the logistics plan is wholly absent and the poor are made criminals stopped when they walking but those in the vehicles are given a free pass.

Covid-19 Lockdown conveniently afforded a period of time for those with money defined in class definitions of middle to an upper-middle-class description to stockpile and empty the shops. By the time the poor and those on social grants got paid restrictions on quantities became the order of the day. I guess Covid-19 lockdown registers a curse for the proletariat. One is perplexed by the fact that it’s month-end, the only time the poor have resources to pay their bills and buy groceries and they are treated like dirt as defiant by middle-class groupies whom all of sudden know everything about obeying the laws. Meaning the poor is punished for being poor. Their capitalist class disposition is used against them.

Covid-19 Lockdown presents itself in stranger forms that depict both class and racist dispositions because in South Africa the poor are necessarily black. To state this is to acknowledge that the deployment of the armed forces evidences essentially a historically apartheid and now democracy entrenched township presence. Meaning the privileged suburban life of South Africa continues unabated we have seen people roaming even jogging in Rosebank among others. We have even heard some apartheid privileged ones call for the townships to be barbed-wired and cordoned off in old fashioned apartheid-style.

In Alexandra Township and others residents are subjected to the wrath of soldiers who clearly are defying the orders from the president. I am perturbed by a soldier who deems it his inalienable right in this season to be violent in enforcing what he calls the president’s lockdown instructions while he violates the very instructions and basic dictates of a constitutional human rights diaphragm. Black lives, therefore, are subjected to abuse, vilification and harassment as increasing videos attest. On top of this, you have the Defence Minister Mapisa-Nqakula who deliberately plays down recorded video footage as fake.

There is little doubt that Covid-19 Lockdown in a township setting never appreciated the reality of the actual socio-economic conditions of the poor. It is astounding that cabinet ministers failed to appreciate the reality that on average 9-10 people occupies a shack-dwelling of less than 40square meters where an ablution facility is external and shared by others in the same “street”. Social distancing in townships where the majority of black people live thus translates to an anomaly if not an outright contradiction.

Covid-19 lockdown sees to it that every informal-trader and business understood in Spaza- shops definition located for convenience in the townships are closed down when metro police officers and soldiers deem it their duty to direct people to the established grocery chain stores of among others Pick Pay, Spar, Checkers etc. This directly means informal trading an essential aspect of everyday economic life for people who are unemployed is forced to grinding halt while the established grocery chain- stores need I remind us, essentially white-owned is flooded. Lockdown, therefore, evidences a curse to the black informal trader in particular.

If Covid-19 Lockdown is brutal for the black poor masses in general it nowhere is more glaring as with the most vulnerable namely the SASSA grant beneficiaries. A caring government would prove more proactive and prepared to allow society’s most vulnerable access to its only stipend. Instead, the day for grant payments Monday 30, 2020 ended in tragedy and disappointment for the vulnerable and the aged. We learned of an elderly man that collapsed and died close to the Western Cape Gatesville Mall. We saw the elderly desperate and dishevelled at the news that pay-points ran out of money [how this could have occurred only those who lead this know] and having to return tomorrow. This is a grave injustice since the most vulnerable are again to leave the homes to be exposed to the ‘virus’ and simultaneously forced to spend money to again get to the same pay-points twice for the same payment. Not to mention the fact that the elderly are also frail and more susceptible to be infected given a weaker immune system. Need I add the elderly I am referring to hear are necessarily black again they are the ones served this injustice when they ought to be the cared for.

Covid-19 saw whites taking the latitude to line up blacks so as to teach them about hygiene in the washing of hands. This necessarily racist act is the antithesis of what we all know as our collective daily reality where blacks keep whites clean in their homes in personal hygiene.

Alas, Covid-19 lockdown increasingly has become the curse of the black man who is restricted to walk, demeaned by lusty law enforcers, denied to conduct business, having to stand in long lines to get their monthly stipends. They are denigrated in public abused kicked, made to roll in the mud in the silliness of a kangaroo punishment. They are shot at as the Vosloorus resident family found out when their breadwinner died at the hand of a metro police officer and security guard currently locked up.

I ask you how did Covid-19 and its subsequent Lockdown adopt this now confirmed class and racist identity. The answer is while townships are shut down, whites’ braai on their suburban street corners as the attached video shows.

Call me a prophet of gloom but I don’t trust this apparent smooth” compliance” – that politicians gloat on television about. I predict there will be a day soon when this Covid-19 lockdown in food-shortage of the poor will spill into the streets of SA. This will become the true moment of truth and litmus test of this political leadership. While politicians pat themselves on the back in claims of the majority of South Africans complying they may be fooling themselves to underestimate what hungry people will do. My personal prayers let us not get there but how do you stop the obvious. It may make Marikana look like a picnic. That’s what I am agonising over.

It gravely frustrates me that a virus which was imported by the middle and upper-class today is now targeted in the aim of its wrath of compliance at the poor who do not travel internationally. My frustration is that Covid-19 confirms class, privilege and race dimensions at every turn.

Beyond Covid-19, which we all know will not last, we will have to still deal with our worship of violence albeit in shades of it is in order if it’s inflicted on truant men just not women. So I am a perplexed mind and this is Day 4 of what easily may be ninety days of Covid-19 lockdown. Covid-19 and lockdown politics are local. Does Covid-19 Lockdown hold local political benefit and a ramification, your guess is as good as mine?

Clyde N. S. Ramalaine
A Lifelong Social Justice Activist Political Commentator & Writer is a SARChi D. Litt.et. Phil candidate in Political Science with the University of Johannesburg. Chairperson of TMoSA Foundation – The Thinking Masses of SA