Covid- 19 and lockdown

By Bonani Loliwe

Covid-19 was expected to lead to large economic losses and human desperation. Lockdowns to prevent disease transmission can take a heavy toll on rural economies which mainly depend on solidarity in working relationships.

These include women’s sewing projects and individual ploughing lands, the closing of the country resulted in the  closing down of such  informal activity. Economically, some households had resources to cope with loss of labour and income, while others did not. Geographically and agriculturally the lockdown impacts varied,  in areas where people have worked their lands, such as Mkhubiso in Middledrift, Eastern Cape, economic activism and farming  of each area before the pronouncement of lockdown resulted in better food security for the community. Their area was in a better position to feed the people of the community during the harshest times of lockdown.

The size and duration of this economic loss is uncertain but its negative impact can be heard through  anecdotal evidence accounted  by those who desperately visited most state entities who are tasked to issue out state relevant relief  such as food parcels, UIF, social relief funds for the unemployed. Their desperation was demonstrated during the handing out of insufficient food parcels. Key to this desperation is the reality that food insecurity has risen, as incomes fall and agricultural prices increase owing to disrupted supply chains. If informal markets are closed, some households may lose access to food, or must buy food from more distant centres at a higher cost. Low income households that can afford have to switch to less nutritious food.

Access to water supply

According to Eastern Cape Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs spokesperson Makhaya Komisa the provincial government announced on Wednesday 13 May 2020 that 5 284 rainwater tanks had been delivered and 3 972 installed at sites across the province. And Komisa said a further “320 boreholes are being drilled across the province and will be completed during June 2020 to benefit local communities of our province”. Despite repeated requests, the government has refused to say where the water tanks have been placed.

Most communities especially in the former Transkei were without water for some time even before Covid-19, even though there was a promise of water tanks, some areas are still without those tanks, one village in Tsomo is  among those “still waiting for tanks”.

Nomvuso Nopote of the Siyazakha Land Rights and Development Forum said: “The areas surrounding Cala are still struggling to have water. A nearby village even came to my community yesterday [on Thursday 14 May] to fetch water from our taps, which means they haven’t got any tanks”. Ward 4 of the Raymond Mhlaba Municipality has been without water in the past few months due to unavailability of diesel to pump water from the reservoirs. The unreliability of Amatola water was cited by Middledrift/Keiskammahoek respondents as the reason for interrupted water supply. There is always a pipe burst in areas under Amatole water, which is an example of a service provider with no proper communication with the villagers resulting in weeks or even a month passing before repairs happen.

Access to health facilities

In the month of June many clinics and hospitals such as Bisho, Grey and SS Gida were inaccessible for other diseases  and community clinics were often  closed because of Covid19 contamination. Many elderly citizens who were suffering from other diseases have succumbed to death due to the above situation. Burials in most Buffalo City Municipality villages were no longer on weekends but throughout the week and some of respondents argued that it is not only Covid-19 related deaths. In the Hanover area, 10 km from Bisho, and 22 km from KWT, an elderly person who was suffering from asthma had to wait for more than 5 days for a hospital bed, up until I contributed some money towards the private Doctors cost. Unfortunately the old man passed away immediately  after because of the toll this took on his health.

In most rural areas  testing for covid-19 was something that villagers believed to only be for the urban people as there are no available health facilities that could provide the testing service during the month of June. To some villagers, it is expensive to go to a town facility where such services are available and some that did  visit the health facilities did not receive their results for months.

Digging of graves

There is not a single tractor-loader-backhoe (TLB) in most municipalities except for Buffalo City Municipality which has no program for the  digging of graves  for those who  died of Covid-19This forces villagers to shovel dirt “the old fashioned way” despite the dangers of the pandemic. Amathole District Municipality sometimes assisted in areas such as Amahlathi villages; and Raymond Mhlaba village.

Food parcels

Food parcels that were organised by various councillors through either the municipality’s  budget  or through Provincial Departments were chaotic and raised many concerns. Most families who were in dire need of food parcels were left out of the list; accusations were that   families whose family members are working received food parcels , as well as politically connected individuals. Add a line explaining why this is a problem…shows corruption and that the relief did not reach those who needed it.

In some areas residents queued outside places such as,  the schools and open spaces ignoring lockdown rules,  not keeping any social distancing. In Buffalo City Municipality food parcels were only distributed once in June although Buffalo City Metro had availed R30m towards providing food parcels to 40,000 families in each of its 50 wards. Each ward had to identify 800 people living below the poverty line who would receive the R750 vouchers. But unfortunately some of the really  needy families did not receive food parcels. One family in Hanover village, headed by an unemployed mother who lives on  assistance by a good Samaritan family, was among those that were left out, while families related to “volunteers” received food parcels even though some are well off.

The running theme during the hard lockdown was that the most vulnerable of our communities did not have access to basic resources that were meant for them. Either because of corruption or negligence by people put in charge the most vulnerable were left hungry and expected to fend for themselves during trying times.

BONANI LOLIWE is a former Border Rural Committee and current head of administration at Vulamasango Singene Social Movement

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