Maverick Citizen: Seven Days

Civil Society Watch, 16 – 22 March 2020

By Mark Heywood 16 March 2020

Pedestrians walk past a shop encouraging customers to come in a wash their hands inside their shop in London. (Photo: EPA-EFE/FACUNDO ARRIZABALAGA)

Poetry, Happiness and Human Rights in a time of Covid-19. A weekly feature to inform readers of a cross-section of events organised by civil society organisations.

Mark Heywood

President Ramaphosa has spoken and declared a national state of disaster.
This will be the week in which everything changes – and everything stays the same. It will be a week in which the world as we know it comes to an end – and yet everything continues.
There will be more travel restrictions internationally, more great sporting events are likely to be cancelled (yesterday the Two Oceans Marathons was cancelled and I can’t see the Comrades holding out much longer) and we will hear of rising infections and before long deaths.
Hopefully it will be a week in which civil society rallies to save lives and here we can do no better than repeat the words of the President:

This national emergency demands co-operation, collaboration and common action.
More than that, it requires solidarity, understanding and compassion.
Those who have resources, those who are healthy, need to assist those who are in need and who are vulnerable.
All the institutions of the state will be mobilised to lead this effort, but, if we are to succeed, every company, trade union, NGO, university, college, school, religious group and taxi association will need to play its part.
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Yet in a strange quirk of history it’s also a week which will end with three special commemorations, marked off on the calendar as days for reflection. Friday 20 March is the the United Nations International Day of Happiness; Saturday 21 March is marked by UNESCO as World Poetry Day and in South Africa it’s also Human Rights day and the 60th anniversary of the Sharpeville Massacre.
Perhaps the coincidence of these commemorations with the Covid-19 crisis is trying to tell us something?
Covid-19 is a timely warning of a world out of balance, a world that chases GDP and profit to serve the happiness of a few; as this article by Devan Pillay pointed out only a few nations have made happiness an indicator and outcome of good governance.
Poetry often seems like something of a dying art (at least as far as readers are concerned), a form of writing about life that we pay insufficient attention to. Yet, as one writer put it, “poems are wonderfully open, democratic spaces” where the “uncommonness of the sense it makes” can make us see things as they really are. Poetry has always been a branch of politics, a way of speaking truth to power.
Next week, as young people and workers find ourselves with more time at home we can explore the modern and ancient poets of South Africa (it’s a long list), writers who can help restore our values, and in particular create a society where Ubuntu and equal human rights to dignity and equality are respected and fulfilled. In particular Covid-19 makes it a good time to be thinking about the meaning of the right of access to health care services and to an environment that is not harmful to our health and wellbeing.
However, as we do so, the civil society show must go on.
Note: Since the declaration of a state of national disaster it now seems that some of these events, particularly seminars and public meetings, will be cancelled, so check with the organisers in advance. Those we expect to be cancelled are struck through like this. In the face of Covid-19 the censor we thought it worthwhile to continue to reflect events that would have taken place.

On Monday 16 March the residents of eleven buildings in inner-city Johannesburg will challenge the lawfulness and constitutionality of over 20 police raids of their homes conducted in 2017 and 2018. The raids were conducted in terms of section 13 (7) of the South African Police Services (SAPS) Act while two of the raids were conducted without any legal authority. The residents contend that section 13 (7) of the SAPS Act is unconstitutional in that it unjustifiably infringes the right to privacy, contained in section 14 of the Constitution. The matter will be heard by a full bench of the High Court in Johannesburg. The residents are being represented by Khululiwe Bhengu, from the Socio-Economic Rights Institute of SA (SERI). Read more about the case and find all the papers here.

In human rights week, the rights of workers are also important. There are now over seven million digital platform workers all over the world, doing work that is outsourced via platforms or apps. Platform work provides essential income and opportunities to many. However, lacking protection from employment law or collective bodies, many platform workers face low pay, precarity, and poor and dangerous working conditions.
On Tuesday 17 March the Fairwork Project, which has conducted research into labour practices in South Africa’s gig economy, rating the performance of employers including Uber, SweepSouth, Domestly, Picup, Mr D and Orderin, will be announcing the results of their research. They will also announce South Africa’s 2020 gig economy labour scores and league table. Maverick Citizen report on the results.

On the same day in Johannesburg the South African Cities Network (SACN), the Public Affairs Research Institute (PARI) and the University of the Witwatersrand Law School are holding a Joburg Urban Governance Dialogue between 09:30 am – 13:00 pm. The aim of the dialogue is “to analyse the experience of multi-party governance since the 2016 local government elections and whether political plurality and contestation have impacted on the [political administrative interface and the governance of service delivery.” We are not experts but we think we know the answer.

Then in the evening of Tuesday 17 March @17.00h at the Wits School of Public Health Auditorium the Rural Health Advocacy Project (RHAP) is hosting the first of a series of seminars targeted at young nursing professionals and students in order to highlight the role that nurses play in the health system- more so in a healthcare system transitioning towards the NHI. The seminar is titled: “Are the current nursing education reforms responsive to the health needs of rural communities?”

Wednesday 18th March is a busy day. First up it’s Global Recycling Day an issue Maverick Citizen has drawn attention to with our focus on hunger and food waste. During the day Stellenbosch University is holding a forum on business and faith; and in the evening at the Black Sash national office in Cape Town there is a Black Sash Khuluma (“Speak”) to explore the class action litigation against Tiger Brands over the 2017-2018 Listeriosis outbreak as well as how the quality of food impacts on children’s health and development. The speakers include Kopano Matlwa Mabaso, author and Director of the Grow Great Campaign.

On Thursday 19 March @ 18.00 Thuli Madonsela, the Chair in Human Rights Law and the Transformation Committee of Stellenbosch University, will host a panel discussion in honour of Human Rights Day 2020. On the panel are a group of leading women activists including Vuyiseka Dubula-Majola, Director, Africa Centre for HIV/AIDS Management; Bonita Meyersfeld, an Advocate and Chair of Lawyers Against Abuse; and Bronwyn Pithey,
an Advocate and activist in the Women’s Right to be Free from Violence Programme at the Women’s Legal Centre.

Saturday 21st March is Human Rights day. Unfortunately the annual Human Rights Festival that was due to take place at Constitution Hill in Johannesburg has been postponed. However, the Gauteng Provincial government has a list of other things you could do on the day. Whatever happens this week human rights will be important to continue to protect; to highlight their importance Maverick Citizen will be publishing a series of reflections on human rights issues by activists in South Africa and internationally.
Activists live in every city, town and village in South Africa and we want to report on all of them! So, wherever you live, if you have events or meetings which you think other activists ought to know about, write to us at: [email protected]
Also please sign up for our weekly newsletter here. MC

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