Covid-19

Maverick Citizen Op-ed

Covid-19 information campaigns in isiXhosa are needed in the Eastern Cape

JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA - MAY 08: A general view at Diepsloot COVID-19 screening and testing site at Diepsloot Sarafina Park on May 08, 2020 in Johannesburg, South Africa. It is reported that more than 12 000 people have been screened and over 1000 people tested in Diepsloot. The Premier urged the people of Diepsloot to continue practicing safety measures including social distancing and wearing cloth masks when leaving home. (Photo: Sharon Seretlo/Gallo Images via Getty Images)

In a mostly poor rural province like the Eastern Cape, where many households are headed by women, it’s vital that facts about the pandemic reach the people who are all too often forgotten.

There is a lack of mass testing in rural communities and the dissemination of information is often not translated into vernacular to help people understand. The burden of rural women is therefore exacerbated even more by local officials’ failure to fulfil their most basic mandate of service delivery.

Global pandemics affect men and women differently. The inequalities hardwired into South African society will only be deepened by the coronavirus, and our vulnerable rural communities will not be spared.

By now, a predominantly rural province like the Eastern Cape ought to have learnt from the HIV-AIDS epidemic that health crises of this nature often result in women bearing the heaviest burden of disease. It’s up to the state to respond in a way that eases this burden during and after the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Border Rural Committee (BRC) proposes three clearly targeted strategies to ensure the most vulnerable and marginalised are not forgotten at this crucial time.

The first is to deal with the high levels of corruption in the Eastern Cape government’s institutions, and introduce an effective consequence management strategy for corrupt individuals, both in the public and private sectors. 

Second, the state should embrace and implement preventative measures to address the plague that is gender-based violence and femicide (GBVF), as well as devise a preventative approach to protecting unpaid frontline caregivers. 

Third, the Eastern Cape Department of Health should partner with civil society organisations and start mass testing in rural communities as a matter of urgency. This should be coupled with the effective dissemination of reliable information on the coronavirus and its impact on individuals, households and communities.

The province is blighted with high levels of corruption. Some political leaders, like councillors, fail to consider their role in society as a service, and instead use their positions to advance their personal agendas. 

Historically, the Eastern Cape’s rural communities have been a source of labour for the rest of South Africa. This inevitably resulted in a high percentage of rural households being led by women. When global pandemics, and even national epidemics, take hold, the mostly male labour force would bring disease home to women who were already burdened with the unpaid work they performed in their homes and communities. 

History has taught us that disease, through the mobility of epidemics and pandemics, has dire socio-economic, psychological and physical repercussions for women. First, the men who come home with the disease are taken care of by their wives and children (mostly girls). Moreover, women are expected to provide moral support to men who struggle with the stigma of being unemployed. More often than not, this leads to incidents of domestic violence and even femicide, which is prevalent in the Eastern Cape.

The province is blighted with high levels of corruption. Some political leaders, like councillors, fail to consider their role in society as a service, and instead use their positions to advance their personal agendas. 

Returning to Covid-19, advice and information on the virus should be made available in vernacular. People need to be clear about what the virus is, how it is transmitted and what the long term socio-economic effects on households and communities will inevitably be. Global lessons should be shared to keep the messaging positive, while at the same time being clear that failure to protect one’s health may result in death. 

There are millions of people who live below the poverty line in Africa. Going to bed on an empty stomach for many is a daily reality.

Organisations like the Border Rural Committee use educational videos with isiXhosa commentary to impart knowledge to rural communities. This strategy has proven to help ordinary citizens understand difficult concepts, enhance illiterate people’s retention and encourage the transfer of information in daily conversations.

It is not all doom and gloom in the Eastern Cape, however, with the province recording some unique successes. We note that the province has embraced the district development model in order to flatten the curve of Covid-19, for a start. In a rural province such as ours, decentralising the response strategy as much as possible is a commendable approach. The health crisis has also led to much-needed government interventions in infrastructure such as water supply and sanitation.

There are millions of people who live below the poverty line in Africa. Going to bed on an empty stomach for many is a daily reality. Research conducted by the Pietermaritzburg Economic Justice and Dignity Group (PMBEJD)’s Mervyn Abraham revealed that a monthly basket of food containing 38 basic items had, in the last three months, increased by 8% from R3,221 to R3,473. The national minimum wage is R3,500, which means that many could not afford food even before Covid-19. 

Life under lockdown in South Africa is even more precarious than before. Disaster relief food parcels must be complemented with seeds so that people can start growing their own food. The Border Rural Committee advocates a sustainable approach to food sovereignty, food justice and food security using agro-ecological methodologies of household gardens.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) was able to remove countries like Brazil from the poverty spectrum through a successful (although difficult to maintain) process of promoting household farming. Strategies used by groups like Brazil’s Bolsa Familia, the Council for Food and Nutrition Security (CONSEA) and the Zero Hunger Project could be implemented by the Eastern Cape, which boasts some of the most fertile land in the country. 

The leadership of the Eastern Cape needs to declare the fight against hunger and poverty a priority. Effective policies and programmes aimed at poverty alleviation need to be instituted and protected by law. This will only succeed once there is the political will to change the ways things are done. DM/MC

Sibulele Poswayo is a Resource Mobiliser and Gender Specialist at the Border Rural Committee and Chairwoman of the BRICS Inequality Movement.

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"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]"