A Call for Social Solidarity in South Africa
We, as civic organizations, trade unions, organizations of informal workers, faith-based organizations and community structures in South Africa, call on all people, every stakeholder and sector, to contain the infection, reduce transmission and mitigate the social and political impacts of the COVID-19 virus.
Government retains a critical role in coordinating actions and distributing resources, yet its efforts will not be enough if we do not hold it to account and commit to a broad, bottom-up, public effort at this time. In a society as unequal as ours, we must work together to ensure that all safety measures are shared equitably.
We have a particular duty to safeguard those who are most vulnerable, those who are already living with hunger, weakened immune systems and poor access to health care. Greater restrictions and shutdowns are coming, but they will only work if full support is provided to working-class and poor communities. Drastic measures are needed if we are to avoid disaster. Each of us must act now.
Acknowledging other statements coming from fellow movements and organizations, we put forward the following Program of Action for all of us to work towards in the coming days.
- Income security for all:
In order for people to remain at home there must be income security for all. Employers must continue to pay salaries or grant sick leave while employees are restricted to their homes, and where continued salaries are impossible government must provide workers with income protection for wages lost during the pandemic. There must be a moratorium on retrenchments during this time.
Self-employed, casual workers and those whose income is suspended at this time must be supported by government to prevent job-seeking movement and provide income security. The social grant system must be extended to ensure the direct transfer of cash to households during this precarious time. All defaults on mortgage and debt repayments during this time must be non-consequential. All evictions and removals must be banned. As Labour has proposed, a bold stimulus package will be required in the coming period. These measures must be developed in consultation with poor and working-class formations.
- All households, residential institutions, the homeless and the informally housed must have easy access to sanitation, especially water and safe ablution facilities.
There must be an immediate opening of restricted water meters, mass-provision of safe water access points with the unconstrained flow in areas where there is limited household access to water, and mass distribution of safe ablution facilities to informal settlements. All of these sanitation points must have access to soap and/or sanitizer and information on the prevention of the virus.
- All households, residential institutions, the homeless and the informally housed must have access to food.
If we are to stay at home during this time, access to nutritious food is fundamental. The absence of the School Nutrition Program is devastating. A coordinated and safe roll-out of food packages directly to distribution points in food-stressed neighborhoods must be implemented. Failing that, the child support grant must be augmented. Support for locally-organized food systems must be strengthened.
- Essential private facilities must be appropriated for public use to provide a unified and fair distribution of essential goods and services to all.
National resources need to be focused and deployed in order to combat the epidemic. Essential services – health centers, food services, water and sanitation, etc. – should be identified for urgent support and extension. This may require the conversion of factories and other places of production to produce sanitizer, protective clothing, water tanks, soap, food parcels, ventilators and other essential medical equipment. Essential private facilities must be made available for public use to provide a unified and fair distribution of essential goods and services to all. It requires that the public and private health systems need to be regarded as one national health system and coordinated in the national and public interest, also through state appropriation if necessary, as Spain recently demonstrated. Finances may have to be mobilized through unconventional means such as compulsory national bonds or loans, reforms to tax structures and others. Exported food might need to be redistributed locally. Regulations on price hikes should be implemented.
- Community self-organization and local action are critical as is our representation in national coordination.
Civic organizations, community structures, trade unions and faith-based organizations will be extremely important in organizing on the ground during this emergency. We must all take action where we are. Civic structures must be engaged, supported and given representation on the National Command Council. The distribution of reliable information, essential services and care for our people will require a massive coordinated effort from community leaders and structures. Volunteers must be trained and organized for safe, coordinated, campaigns at street-level and for those living in institutions. Middle-class and wealthy communities and organizations have an obligation to make resources available to poor and working-class communities.
- Community health workers must be insourced trained and supported and, along with other frontline health and emergency services workers, must have access to the resources necessary to safely and effectively contain the virus.
The 70,000 community health workers are the outreach arms of our health. If they and other frontline health workers and emergency services workers are to provide the community services required during this time, they must all have access to reliable information, safety and protective gear, and the testing and other resources for effective containment of the virus. All workers must also receive safety and protective gear.
- We must identify strategies to calm tensions and divert violence in our homes.
Home-based quarantine will escalate family and relationship tensions, and will likely lead to more violence against women, children and others most marginalized in our families and communities, including LGBTI people and foreign nationals. We need to identify strategies to calm tensions and divert violence in our homes and communities over this time. We need a strong education campaign against all forms of violence, especially domestic violence. We need to strengthen safe responses from existing neighborhood, regional and national organizations supporting women and children. This includes extending access to helplines for domestic violence, mental health, easing referral systems to shelters, and resourcing shelters to keep them open, functional and safe in the time of the virus.
- Communication must be free, open and democratized.
There must be an immediate distribution of free data to all, so that people are able to receive good information, contact loved ones during isolation and quarantine, and understand the measures that are in place to create safety. Access to the best international research should be free and public. There must be daily national press conferences from government leaders alongside scientists and professionals who can keep all of our people informed about the emerging situation.
- The inequalities within our educational services need to be carefully considered and mitigated when moving to remote learning.
Data and free website content must be made widely available to educational institutions for continued learning. However, there is massive inequality of access to resources such as computers, electricity, WiFi and learning space, as well as difficult home situations that disproportionately affect poor and working-class learners, students and educators. The move to online learning should be made carefully and as a temporary measure. We should not extend the inequalities in the education system by affording remote education to the few. Schools and universities should consider their collective role as community educators and developers facing an unprecedented shared experience. Schools, residences and dormitories should be understood as a public resource during this time, including for the safe distribution of food and other essential services interrupted by school closures.
- We must prevent a nationalist, authoritarian and security-focused approach in containing the virus.
We must guard against the easy deployment of military and police to create security in our communities. We must also prevent against creating scapegoats to blame for the current crisis. Instead, we must ensure that care and resources are provided for the safety and protection of all who live in our country and in our communities.
How each of us responds to the COVID-19 pandemic will determine who we are as a society. The better we respond now, the better we will be after the pandemic. We must follow international best practices and the science that we have available to us to build an assertive response that works for the context of our own history and society. Our response must be just, equitable, and redistributive if we are to meet the needs of all our people. In times of physical distancing, social solidarity is key.
Organizations Endorsing the Program of Action
The list below reflects the 105 endorsements as of March 23, 2020, to be updated as additional endorsements continue to come in.
- 021 Cape Town
- 360 Degrees Environmental Movement
- Academic and Staff
- Academics for Free Education
- ActionAid South Africa
- Active Citizens Movement
- African Centre for Biodiversity
- African Water Commons Collective
- AIDS Foundation of South Africa
- AIDS Free Living
- Alternative Information and Development Centre (AIDC)
- Ashes to Purpose
- Assembly of the Unemployed Fight
- ASSITEJ South Africa
- Auwal Socio-economic Research Institute
- Black Sash;
- Bench Marks Foundation
- Bertha’s Cape Town
- Bonteheuwel Development Forum
- Centre for Applied Legal Studies
- Centre for Faith and Community, University of Pretoria
- Centre for Social Change, University of Johannesburg
- Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation
- Civic Action for Public Participation
- Community Development Foundation, Western Cape
- Community Development Foundation, Western Cape
- Community Healing Network
- Corruption Watch
- Denis Hurley Centre
- Development Works
- Documentary Filmmakers Association
- Economic Justice Network of
- Equal Education
- Extinction Rebellion South Africa
- Fellowship of Christian Councils in Southern Africa
- Gender Equity Unit, University of the Western Cape
- Grace Family Church
- Gun Free South Africa
- Heinrich Böll Foundation Cape Town Office
- Housing Assembly
- Inclusive and Affirming Ministries
- Inequality Alliance South Africa
- Initiative for Community Advancement
- Institute for Economic Justice
- Institute for Economic Research on Innovation, Tshwane University of Technology
- Isandla Institute
- Ithuba Lethu Recycling Cooperative
- Just Associates (JASS) Southern Africa
- Keep Left
- Lawyers for Human Rights
- Makause Community Development Forum
- Marikana Youth Movement
- Medecins Sans Frontières
- Middleburg Environmental Justice Network
- Mining Affected Communities United in Action
- My Vote Counts
- Natural Justice
- National Union of Care Workers of SA (NUCWOSA)
- Ndifuna Ukwazi
- New World Foundation
- Observatory Civic Association
- One Voice for All Hawkers
- Open Secrets
- Open Society Foundation South Africa
- Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Gauteng
- People’s Health Movement South Africa
- Popular Education Programme
- Public Affairs Research Institute
- Public Service Accountability Monitor
- Public Services International
- Refugee Social Services
- Rehana Khan Parker and Associates
- Rural Health Advocacy Project
- SA Domestic Services and Allied Workers Union
- SA Lawyers for Change
- Salt River Heritage Society
- Sex Workers Education and Advocacy Taskforce (SWEAT)
- Sexual and Reproductive Justice Coalition
- Sharp# movement for ecosocialism
- Social Justice Advocacy Campaign
- Social Justice Coalition
- Social Law Project, University of the Western Cape
- Society Work and Politics Institute, University of the Witwatersrand
- Sonke Gender Justice
- South Africa Mining Affected Communities
- South African Federation of Trade Unions (SAFTU)
- South African Green Revolutionary Council
- South African Green Revolutionary Council
- South African Jews for a Just Peace
- Southern African Faith Communities Environment Institute
- Support Programme for Industrial Innovation
- Surplus People’s Project
- The Climate Justice Charter
- The Commercial, Stevedoring, Agricultural and Allied Workers Union (CSAAWU)
- The Cooperative and Policy Alternative Centre
- The Independent Producers Organization
- The Institute for the Healing of Memories
- The Interim People’s Library
- The Mbegu Platform
- The South African Food Sovereignty Campaign
- Treasured Gems Cancer Support
- Treatment Action Campaign
- Triangle Project
- Tshisimani Centre for Activist Education
- Tshwane Leadership Foundation
- Westdene Sophiatown Residents Association
- Women in Informal Employment Globalising and Organising
- Workers World Media Collective
- Woza Women in Leadership
For more information: Noncedo Madubedube, General Secretary, Equal Education Campaign; Mazibuko Jara, Deputy Director, Tshisimani Centre for Activist Education
Caption: An ambulance meant to respond to COVID-19 suspected cases and place the individuals in isolation hospitals and quarantine in Durban, KwaZulu Natal, South Africa (March 2020)
Credit: Khethukuthula Mbonambi