ON Friday my neighbourhood watch received notification from Pikitup – the waste management service provider to the City of Johannesburg – that there would be a delay in collecting refuse because one of their employees had tested positive for the coronavirus and the company had sent everyone home to isolate.
These are low income earners which would mean they live in townships where it’s mostly poor and densely populated communities and where running water is intermittent. And the big question, which we’ve highlighted here in several articles, is how they go into self-isolation in their circumstances. How do they adhere to the rules of washing hands with soap and social distancing?
The Department of Human Settlement, Water and Sanitation, led by Minister Lindiwe Sisulu, is constructing 1 000 temporary residential units (TRUs) in an effort to ease congestion while improving the living conditions of poor communities. Sisulu said the structures will remain post Covid-19 and the residents will use them until they are allocated houses if they qualify for fully subsidised government housing.
On 6 May, in a series of tweets, Health Minister Zweli Mkkhize said a total of 511 health workers had tested positive for the novel coronavirus in South Africa,
Mkhize said 26 doctors has been hospitalised and two health workers, a doctor and a nurse had died.
These figures are a stark reminder of the sacrifices by the many workers who provide essential services to us at great risk to themselves and their families – these are those we call essential workers who work in hospitals, commute passengers to-and-from work, supermarkets, to transport products, and refuse removals. The tragedy is also that these are some of the lowest paid employees who work under stressful and unhealthy conditions.
The ever rising number of coronavirus infections which stood at over 15,000 yesterday, is matched by the ever increasing number of those who demand that the whole economy be re-opened, instead of the cautious steps taken by government in opening the economy gradually. That is a serious problem.
The majority of those who demand the reopening of the economy could not care less that the majority of their fellow citizens would not have the financial means to access proper healthcare when they contract the disease.
Where Has The Democratic Alliance Been Since President Cyril Ramaphosa First Announced the Lockdown Some Two Months Ago?
Leading the way in these challenges is the Democratic Alliance which on Thursday 14 May 2020 lodged an application in the High Court challenging the constitutional validity, rationality and reasonableness of some of the Covid-19 Regulations. A day later, Friday 15 May 2020, it filed papers in the Constitutional Court challenging the constitutional validity of s 27 of the Disaster Management Act, 2002 (the DMA). If the DMA is unconstitutional, it effectively means the regulations that have been set out by the National Command Council (NCC) are invalid.
While the DA’s legal challenges on the face of it, seek to uphold our Constitution and to guard our rights against what are government’s excesses and downright irrational regulations (in some instances) the question that arises is where this political party has been since the declaration of a national state of disaster by the Minister of Co-Operative Governance and Traditional Affairs, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, some two months ago.
The timing of the DA’s challenge cannot be based on the principle of the constitutionality and the lack of parliamentary oversight on the NCC. Its true motivation, which is economic, is betrayed very quickly when in the first few lines of his article published on the DA’s website, its leader John Steenhuisen says:
“We are asking South Africans to assist us in this fight to protect our democratic freedoms. We have to do this, and we have to do this now.
“South Africa cannot afford another two weeks of hard lockdown. It is destroying thousands of businesses and millions of jobs and lives.
“We must fight back against being imprisoned by a night curfew enforced by armed soldiers and against the slew of irrational, petty regulations that do nothing but kill businesses, destroy jobs and turn decent people into criminals”.
This pandemic has once again put into sharp focus, the inequality gap of our society. The haves and the have-nots. And again we are reminded of the ever-lingering legacy of apartheid.
Steenhuisen, in his appeal for support for the DA’s legal challenges asks his fans to “put on our masks, wash our hands, keep some space around us, and then go out there and try and rescue what we can of our economy so that people can earn a living and feed their families and so that we can continue to fund and grow our healthcare system”.
He does not speak for the millions of people who share a small space in a mkhukhu in the townships and he doesn’t speak for the millions who have no access to water and sanitation and proper healthcare.
Steenhuisen says “The President knows as well as I do that a surge in infections is coming, whether we lockdown or not”. He’s short of simply adding the cost of the infections on human life – many people will die. He frankly couldn’t give a damn because he and his constituency want to “rescue” the economy even if it is at the cost of life.
There are many in business who are calling for the lifting of the lockdown and say the first three weeks of lockdown were meant to build capacity in the healthcare system to deal with patients from the coronavirus. Steenhuisen knows as well as anybody else that the capacity of our health systems is not in place to detect, isolate, test and treat every case and trace every contact. He knows that this country does not have preventive measures in place in workplaces or schools. But he doesn’t care nor has he ever cared for the constituency which can’t access these facilities or afford to pay for them. His constituency is largely people who have medical aid, have private transport and have enough room in their homes to self-quarantine or isolate.
While there are those citizens who are genuinely concerned about the erosion of our rights, the DA and its leader are motivated by self interest, Me and Mine. Where the President speaks of saving lives, Steenhuisen and his lot argue that the right to life is not the only right in our constitution.