The coronavirus pandemic is revealing underlying scars of inequality in South Africa, the world’s most economically unequal country. Townships, still often segregated along racial lines due to legacies of housing policies during the era of apartheid, are reporting different levels of coronavirus cases. Crowded, majority-Black townships with little space for social distancing and self-isolation are reporting higher rates of coronavirus infections than areas that were designated all-white under apartheid. According to Edward Molopi, a researcher with the Socio-Economic Research Institute in Johannesburg, “townships become virus hotspots because we haven’t dismantled the apartheid city.”
Varying Impacts of Coronavirus
As of July 17, 2020, South Africa has reported over 324,000 cases of COVID-19 and nearly 5,000 deaths. Many of these cases are found in the Western Cape. Within this province, in Cape Town, the Khayelitsha township reported the highest number of coronavirus cases in the area. In contrast, Stellenbosch, a university town, reported only 1% of the Western Cape’s cases. The stark difference in numbers of cases in these areas cannot be explained by the proportion of the population living in them, and likely have to do with overcrowding and a lack of resources in historically Black areas.
Additionally, with lockdown procedures being enforced more strictly in poor, Black, high-density townships, many are unable to work and find themselves at risk of going hungry. Coupled with the country’s worsening economy, these measures do not bode well for those in precarious economic conditions. The country’s unemployment rate is expected to exceed 35% by December of this year.
Combating the Issue
Despite these disheartening statistics and their discouraging outlook for South Africa, many individuals and non-governmental organizations are fighting for equality and economic security amid the pandemic. One such group is the Socio-Economic Research Institute, home to the researcher Edward Molopi quoted previously in this article. Based out of Johannesburg, an area severely affected by the coronavirus, the institute aims to provide legal assistance, research and advocacy for communities in South Africa afflicted by poverty and inequality. The organization’s belief is that “it is the people who are on the receiving end of poverty and inequality who are best placed to devise and implement strategies to challenge them.”
It goes without saying that the coronavirus pandemic has exposed many flaws in governments and civil societies worldwide. Not only are countries’ inadequate healthcare systems and inefficient disease control protocols revealed, but the presence of poverty, racial biases and other social ills. However, in the face of these many formidable challenges, the best of humanity has been shown as well. Ordinary people across the world are standing up for themselves and their neighbors through collective action and individual acts of kindness, providing hope in tumultuous times.
– Addison Collins
Photo: CA Times