Coronavirus: Alliance for Rural Development

Survival and solidarity in the face of a crisis

Survival and solidarity in the face of a crisis
Wild Coast, Eastern Cape. (Photo: EPA / Nic Bothma)

Rural activists organised a webinar to highlight the inadequacy of South Africa’s social and security systems, particularly in light of the difficulty rural people were experiencing regarding Covid-19 lockdown restrictions. 

The Alliance for Rural Democracy (ARD) convened a webinar on Thursday, 16 April with a panel of well-known activists from the Land and Accountability Research Centre (LARC), Abahlali baseMjondolo, Amadiba Crisis Committee (ACC), Nelson Mandela Foundation (NMF) and Afesis Corplan.

National Convener of ARD, Constance Mogale kicked off the assembled panel by saying that they welcomed President Cyril Ramaphosa’s announcement on the Covid-19 lockdown. However, what they lamented was that without proper planning and geo-mapping of how to deal with the pandemic, people in rural areas were likely to be the ones who would suffer.

She said what the pandemic had brought to light was the inadequacy of South Africa’s social and security systems, particularly in light of the difficulty rural people were experiencing regarding physical distancing. For example, people are not able to even go to the river to fetch water or tend to their livestock. She said that in terms of healthcare, people in rural areas relied on mobile clinics, however, these were not equipped to respond to the Covid-19 crisis. 

Mogale said that ARD was also looking to start a discussion on how people working in urban areas would still be able to take care of their loved ones who live in rural areas in light of the closing of borders.

Nontando Ngamlana, Executive Director of Afesis Corplan, highlighted that the state’s response so far has had an urban middle-class bias with minimal resources available.

She said this spoke to who it was that the country was prepared to cushion in order to be resilient and that rural people, and those on farms seem to be the forgotten ones. 

She said the question of rural people’s limited mobility had not been included in the response to the crisis and that the most immediate thing that needs to be done was to amplify their missing voices. She said going forward, however, civil society needs to look at what they want to put on the table post Covid-19 in terms of cushioning and resource allocation for the urban poor and rural people. This, she said, was so that “… if another pandemic were to come about again, it would find us in a different place as a country”.

“On the ground, people are confused, frustrated and stressed about what is happening and are suffering from hunger and starvation,” implored Sbu Zikode, leader of Abahlali baseMjondolo. He said food insecurity at this moment was the biggest threat in poor communities and that physical distancing was problematic because of the assumption that everyone had a house and tap with running water, which is not the case in informal settlements, making complying difficult. 

Zikode said that most of the people in informal settlements are unemployed or self employed in informal businesses, meaning that they were excluded from the relief support being provided by the state. “This puts communities in a difficult position,” he said. Zikode said that now was the time for  solidarity in order to survive the pandemic.

Nonhle Mbuthuma, spokesperson for the Amadiba Crisis Committee, said that what had shocked them as a community is that they believed that by the time of the State Of the Nation Address, government was already aware of the coronavirus, but it was not mentioned. She said that when it was finally announced on TV and radio, it seemed as though officials had forgotten that there were communities without access to TV and radio like the people of Amadiba.  

She said when ACC did finally hear about Covid-19, it was difficult to bring community members together to inform them of the virus, as this was usually done in large groups and this was now restricted. 

She said when people in the community tried to get essential services, they were blocked by police saying that they needed a permit. A further problem she highlighted was that people in rural areas source water from rivers, making it difficult to practice constant hand washing if they are restricted from moving around. 

They then had to make a plan to get hand sanitisers “because we know that if one person in the village has the virus, it would mean that the whole village would be wiped out,” said Mbuthuma. She also lamented that clinics in rural areas were not equipped to handle Covid-19. 

Mbuthuma said that the police who were stopping people and conducting the road-blocks did not have masks and yet were coming into contact with so many people. She said that the messaging from national government to ward councillors and police was inconsistent, and confusing. She said this was proving frustrating for people.

Mbuthuma said Amadiba’s priority has always been about ensuring water for their community, something that had not been forthcoming prior to the pandemic. “Why did government not see that water was a priority before the pandemic?,” she asked.

Nolundi Luwaya, Director at LARC, said that the story of how we got here was as a result of a history of deep and systematic failure. This history rendered our country unequal. She said that what we were now seeing as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic was the surfacing of an incomplete narrative. For example, she said a narrative that speaks of massive economic implications such as South Africa’s ratings downgrade and global recessions, but which didn’t translate into what the very real impact of that is for ordinary South Africans was incomplete. She also made the example of EDCON being on the brink of collapse, yet no one spoke of what that meant for people employed by EDCON.

Luwaya said that there are stories of violence that are emerging such as illegal police brutality, gender-based violence, evictions and the question was what these incidents mean for people in far-flung communities such as rural areas.

She said that what this showed was that suburban anxieties take centre stage to the exclusion of other sectors and voices of the population. Luwaya said that the experience of being South African is different if you are in the urban centre compared to if you are in rural areas. She ended by saying that we need to think creatively about sharing people’s stories in this time of lockdown restrictions.

Khalil Goga from the NMF said that the way in which government acted to cut off informal food supplies was not handled well and that it was “one of the worst mistakes” it had made in dealing with the pandemic. He questioned why it was that our food system was so small and excluded smaller suppliers. He said it meant that it resulted in the prioritising of the middle-class and elite who support big business. 

He said he thought what would be revealed by this crisis is the importance of a bottom up system, particularly in the instance of small-scale farmers. He was concerned that there was a return to nationalism and a pervasive sense of not questioning the decision of Cabinet or the president. 

In closing, Mogale said: “We need to demand clear lines of accountability from the state, should this not happen, people run out of patience and will start to rebel.” DM/MC


"Information pertaining to Covid-19, vaccines, how to control the spread of the virus and potential treatments is ever-changing. Under the South African Disaster Management Act Regulation 11(5)(c) it is prohibited to publish information through any medium with the intention to deceive people on government measures to address COVID-19. We are therefore disabling the comment section on this article in order to protect both the commenting member and ourselves from potential liability. Should you have additional information that you think we should know, please email [email protected]"

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