The lockdown was never meant to be easy. It was never meant to be convenient. And although it assumed a harsh economic impact, its true effect on the economy could not have been estimated. The South African Revenue Service expects to lose a quarter of a trillion rand in tax income alone — a number that puts the R500-billion to R800-billion stimulus package into a bit more perspective.
The effect of the lockdown has been devastating, piling pressures on an already broken social contract and a stuttering welfare state. The sight of people standing in miles-long queues waiting for food parcels should be the driving force of a renewed determination to ensure social justice in South Africa. Our status quo that left so many people to eke out a life on the margins of formal society was never tenable. The sheer number of people who are now dependent on the caprice of the food-parcel delivery system must spur collective action against poverty and inequality. It is the single biggest challenge facing us.
This week in Cape Town, it was surfers who felt their rights were being curtailed. Images and video clips of their protest have become the stuff of parody. The scene of a small group of people asking that the lockdown regulations be amended to allow them to surf borders on comical. Given the difficulties of accessing beaches and the privilege that is so often associated with water sports, the image spoke to the deep inequalities of our country. Last week in Booysens, Johannesburg, police allegedly viciously assaulted people who were protesting for food and here were people asking for what, on the surface, seems like something much less important.
But the lockdown has affected our lives in innumerable ways: from people going without food to the physical effects of not exercising, and its largely unmentioned mental health toll.
It is too easy for us to judge those who have the time to protest for something that we do not think is important. And, when the police didn’t shoot them, it reminded us of the murder of Collins Khosa in his yard, allegedly at the hands of a police force that refuses to create any consequences for the perpetrators.
Each day of this lockdown highlights our broken, and uneven society. What we cannot do is retreat into our silos and see the world solely from our view of it. Every government in the world is struggling to work out how it responds to a Covid-19 disease that can quickly overwhelm healthcare systems and kill. Mistakes are being made. We will make our way out of this crushing moment only by listening to each other and responding to each issue — and solution — that arises.