/ 17 April 2020

The global crisis is just starting to affect Africa

Until Covid-19 struck the US, Italy had the distinction of the being the global epicentre of the pandemic. (Sky News)
Until Covid-19 struck the US, Italy had the distinction of the being the global epicentre of the pandemic. (Sky News)


In Europe, the US and Asia the Covid-19 pandemic is sufficiently progressed that discussion has now broadened as to how to phase out lockdowns, and what the post-pandemic lifestyle will be. Few people believe things can continue as before. Everything about public life is up for debate — particularly its various trade-offs. 

In South Africa, as in the rest of the world, we are seeing devastating job losses on top of what was already an extremely high rate of unemployment. As the Democratic Alliance (DA) succinctly describes it in a recent statement, it is a “great mistake to think in terms of lives versus livelihoods”.

“Each death resulting from the virus is a tragedy. But so is each death resulting from caged citizens and frustrated law enforcers, and so is each victim of home violence. And each malnourished child. And each newly unemployed South African,” says the statement.

It is as if the pandemic has evolved into a competition for global leadership, and it will be those countries that most effectively respond to the crisis that will gain traction. Exacerbating this has been the global obsession with the body count and number of cases, as though it were a matter of national pride in each country’s respective health systems. Every country is looking at their neighbours to see how quickly they are flattening the curve. But counting body bags is macabre and unhealthy, and it distracts people from the real issue at hand. 

On its website, nongovernmental organisation The International Crisis Group says: “While the Covid-19 pandemic presents a potentially era-defining challenge to public health and the global economy, its long- and short-term consequences for deadly conflict are less well understood. Much remains uncertain, but it is already clear that the pandemic could cause enormous damage in fragile states, trigger unrest and undermine international crisis management systems. The disease is already disrupting humanitarian aid flows, peace operations and crisis diplomacy, and it could be catastrophic for civilians caught in the midst of conflict, particularly refugees and displaced people.”

In assessing how the virus will permanently change international politics, it suggests: “For now we can discern two competing narratives gaining currency — one in which the lesson is that countries ought to come together to better defeat Covid-19, and one in which countries need to stand apart in order to better protect themselves from it.”

Africa is not like Europe or the US

The conventional lockdown may do more harm than good in developing countries. 

In a recent Mail & Guardian article, Professor Alex Broadbent, director of the Institute for the Future of Knowledge and executive dean of the faculty of humanities at the University of Johannesburg, questions the case in Africa in the global wisdom of lockdowns: “The biggest public health risk in Africa is not Covid-19, but the consequences of regional and global measures designed to reduce its effect on public health. The cost-benefit analysis of these measures yields a different result in Africa than in Europe, North America and large parts of Asia.

Professor Alex Broadbent, director of the Institute for the Future of Knowledge and professor of philosophy at the University of Johannesburg. (Daily Motion)
Professor Alex Broadbent, director of the Institute for the Future of Knowledge and professor of philosophy at the University of Johannesburg. (Daily Motion)

“By far the biggest risk factor for serious, critical or fatal Covid-19 is age. Worldometer estimates the case fatality rate in the 10 to 30 age category at 0.2%. Under the age of 10, it’s 0%. A recent paper in The Lancet estimated a 0.32% fatality rate in its study population of people aged 60 under, and a 6.4% death rate for people over the age of 60.

“In South Africa, the average male dies before the age of 60, and 3% of the population is over 65. The median age in Africa is 18. In Europe, it’s 42. Africa is the world’s youngest continent, by far,” he says. “We must ask, then, whether African nations (including South Africa) have as much reason to fear Covid-19 as regions where so much of the population is older.”

Lockdown has immediate ramifications for individuals who live on a hand-to-mouth basis, and for their networks of dependents. If people cannot eat, they will not obey a lockdown; nor is there any reason, practical or moral, for them to do so. The United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) estimates that in developing countries, five million children die each year from pneumonia, malaria and childbirth complications. Removing people’s livelihoods may exacerbate these figures.

“Maybe it’s the right thing to do. But when we talk about saving lives, we should factor in the lives we are taking. The net number is what counts,” says Broadbent. “This is not my idea, but an idea suggested by the leaders of a village in a rural part of Africa. And this shows us the best idea of all — ask people to solve the problem for themselves. People who live in a community know their way of life,” he says.

How to register as an essential service provider

During the lockdown most businesses are shut and employees have to remain at home, except for those working in “essential services”. These are services rendered in terms of section 213 of the Labour Relations Act of 1995, and cover communication, water supply, the distribution of gas or electricity for street lighting and household purposes, medicines, hospitals and all those having a similar nature. It also includes support and transportation services relevant to those essential services.

To be able to undertake jobs on a daily basis, each supplier of an essential service on the road has to have a permit from the work team itself, as well as a copy of the government’s Biz Community certificate that it qualifies the firm as an essential service. It might only cover part of an industry: for instance, in the cases of electricity supply and plumbing (water supply), plumbing maintenance is essential — but not plumbing contract work.

The head of the supplier of an essential service will be responsible for determining the essential services to be performed and the staff required to do so. The head or chief executive of the firm must issue a permit to staff going on site, and if an individual is a registered member of a professional body, it should include his/her registration number. These identification numbers are not compulsory, but add to the weight of evidence and provide a third-party verification system if the team is pulled over at a roadblock. The permit contains a list of the people working on the job.

The form needs to be stamped with the company’s official stamp (if it has one) and if the company does not have such a stamp then it is recommended to print across it the company details, CK number and logo and sign across it (in addition to the place where the form itself has to be signed).

In addition, to be designated an essential service, companies have to register on the government’s Biz Portal (bizportal.gov.za/). To be able to do so, one’s details must be on the Ciproza site, which allows the public to retrieve registered company and director information as housed at the CIPC (Companies and Intellectual Property Commission). The details need to be up-to-date and the business legitimate and registered with the CIPC, with a company registration number; and the business needs to be registered in a category now listed as an essential service.

If you’re not registered or up-to-date you won’t get the certificate. A sole proprietor cannot register on Biz Portal, which is only for companies. In this case, some trade organisations recommend the sole proprietor still complete a permit and put in as much information as she possibly can, together with a letter of employment for each employee. However, in this instance, there is little recourse if the police turn the team back.

During the lockdown, essential services include food and essential products services, and enabling services such as cleaning, safety and media services.

For more details, visit: sanef.org.za/full-list-of-essential-services-during-lockdown/