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Eastern Cape faces a Covid-19 class and racial pandemic of devastating consequences

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Vusumzi Vusie Mba is a researcher for the Eastern Cape House of Traditional Leaders. He holds a master’s degree in political science from UKZN and is currently doing a PhD through Nelson Mandela University. Aphiwe Ntlemeza is a sociologist and PhD candidate at the University of Fort Hare. Both write in their personal capacities.

There is a state of panic and unpreparedness in the Eastern Cape over Covid-19 infections in the province. This has manifested itself through poor planning, indecisive ANC leadership and a failure to be proactive in the quarantine process to combat further local infections.

Despite the seismic shifts in South Africa’s political landscape after the 1994 dispensation, unnecessary deaths continue to occur. Two decades after the demise of the oppressive apartheid regime, South Africa faces challenges of an inadequate, inefficient and ineffective healthcare system.

The Covid-19 pandemic has manifested itself as a class pandemic, with grave implications for the poor. South Africa remains one of the most unequal societies in the world, with immense inequality gaps between the developed and under-developed, privileged and underprivileged, and “haves” and “have-nots”. 

The virus is spreading exponentially in Eastern Cape. 

It is important that we drawback to the geographic arrangements of provinces, facilities and infrastructure when analysing and preparing for the coronavirus. The Eastern Cape is South Africa’s poorest province and has seen high rates of chronic diseases over the years, which has put strain on the healthcare system. 

With few means of medical intervention, and other risk factors such as malnutrition and poor access to water, the rates of mortality are bound to increase to resemble that of developed, “elite” countries. It is imperative to note that the pandemic will have devastating consequences on the vulnerable: women, older persons, youth, low-income workers and small black businesses.    

In South Africa, the antagonistic and interrelated pillars of oppression such as race, gender and class underlie the socioeconomic challenges that affect black people and black Africans in particular. South Africa’s healthcare system has become monopolised and exclusionary to black people. Private hospitals have established themselves in areas that are urbanised and less accessible to most of the poor and working class. This maintains a systematic divide whereby black people in rural areas have no access to healthcare services, social housing, water and sanitation that are required to address this pandemic.

Unfortunately, the EC has inadequate systems in place to ensure the readiness of the province to combat Covid-19, which would need a rapid response that addresses past injustices.

During the lockdown, we have seen cases of non-compliance in the EC. Compliance has proven to be most effective in the upper and middle class. The issue of non-compliance needs to be thoroughly unpacked to further represent the demographics of SA.

Across the country, there are concerns of livelihood and economic stability. The EC has the lowest employment rates in the country, with the majority of township families heavily reliant on entrepreneurial ventures. Conceptualising non-compliance reflects the material conditions that black people are endlessly faced with. For vulnerable families, lost income translates to spikes in poverty, malnutrition and reduced access to healthcare beyond this virus.

The militarisation of the police intensifies the issue of race. The military has been stationed in less affluent areas where violence is used to instigate stability and compliance. The very same violence is a representation of the brutal and oppressive apartheid regime that sought to protect and maintain classism and supremacy. Additionally, the excessive use of violence in townships ignites a bigger conversation about Marikana, and how “black life is cheap”. While SA is still racist and unequal, time and again the indignity of the black person is continuously portrayed as a norm.

There is a state of panic and unpreparedness in the Eastern Cape over the Covid-19 infections in the province. This has manifested itself through poor planning, and indecisive ANC leadership when it comes to regulating borders. Additionally, the Eastern Cape leadership has failed to take proactive actions in the quarantine process to combat further local infections. The slow response to effectively ensure that our healthcare systems are capacitated and take into consideration the learnings from “elite” provinces should have been prioritised.

Unfortunately, the failure to effectively plan, coordinate and implement measures to protect the people of the Eastern Cape has raised fundamental challenges and concerns about the type of leadership that is required in the province, especially in the department of health. This week the ANC-led government has been accused of lockdown food parcel corruption.

The EC needs a government that will respond in a decisive, coordinated, and innovative way to suppress the spread of the virus and address the socio-economic devastation that Covid-19 will cause in the province. The magnitude of the response should not be reactive but match the scale of the crisis. Although the response should be aligned to the country’s national response, the EC should explore innovative ways that speak extensively to addressing healthcare injustices that have been in place against black people for generations. 

Regrettably, the Eastern Cape is not ready for what’s coming under the current leadership. DM

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