United Nations Secretary-General, during the launch of a COVID-19 Global Humanitarian Response Plan on 23 March 2020 said, “We must come to the aid of the ultra-vulnerable – millions upon millions of people who are the least able to protect themselves. This is a matter of basic human solidarity. It is also crucial for combating the virus. This is the moment to step up for the vulnerable.”
We are facing a global health and economic crisis of a scale not seen since World War Two and the Spanish Flu pandemic — one that is killing people, spreading human suffering, and destroying people’s lives. But this is much more than a health crisis, it is a human, economic, and social crisis. The coronavirus disease (COVID-19), which has been characterised as a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO), is attacking the foundations of societies.
What we are witnessing on our television screens here in SA is worrisome and heart-breaking – to see people standing in long queues, some for the whole day, hoping to get food. Two incidents come to mind – one is of a person in the Western Cape saying ‘I would rather die of coronavirus than to die of hunger sitting in my house ‘’
The second is of the chaos that broke out in Olievenhoutbosch, Centurion, during the handing out of food parcels last Saturday. Thousands of people from communities in the area descended on Walter Sisulu Primary School including the elderly, the sick, pregnant women, and mothers with their babies, with many not adhering to the social distancing regulations.
Food parcels were being handed out by civil society organisations partnering with the Department of Social Development and community leadership. The streets around the Walter Sisulu Primary were packed with people queueing for the food parcels. Some people collapsed due to standing for a long time in long queues.
Speaking after that incident Gauteng acting MEC for Social Development, Mr Panyaza Lesufi said: “Unless we urgently access the 350 rands announced by President Ramaphosa, we will be faced with revolution by the people”.
I concur with acting MEC Lesufi, there is growing frustration, worry, anxiety, and concerns on the ground, people are deeply concerned about where their next meal will come from, how they are going to survive the next day and how they will feed their families?
This is fast becoming a matter of daily survival for the people. We had better take the warning from Lesufi very seriously because if we don’t urgently and properly address the social, health, and economic crisis created by the COVID-19 pandemic we will be faced with a revolution and the pandemic at the same time.
Unchecked, the pandemic will increase poverty, inequality, exclusion, discrimination, and rising unemployment in the medium and long term.The COVID-19 outbreak affects the entire population but is more detrimental to the most vulnerable in our society, those living in poverty situations, older persons, persons with disabilities, and our young people. People without access to basic needs like food and running water suffer disproportionately from the pandemic and its aftermath.
Whilst we welcome President Ramaphosa and Government’s financial response to this crisis – including other measures taken by our Government, it appears that the help needed on the ground is not reaching the people quickly enough. This pandemic will not be overcome by Government’s efforts alone, if we are going to beat and overcome this pandemic we must work together at all levels of our society combining not only our efforts but also our resources.
Government is partnering well with business, labour, and other civil society organisations, but has so far left behind one key partner in the fight against the pandemic and that is the church and the religious community. As mentioned before, the church and religious community are ready to join forces with our Government to fight this pandemic, to bring our resources, efforts and to share ideas on how to overcome COVID-19.
Church and religious leaders have built trust within their communities and it could be a great help in communicating the Government’s message and relief efforts.We need a comprehensive, universal social partnership, which, when in place, will play a double role in protecting the vulnerable in society and reducing the prevalence of poverty. We need to mobilise emergency relief resources to support the poor in responding to the immediate crisis, make immediate life-saving interventions, and reduce the swelling numbers of vulnerable people and unemployment.
Working together we can minimize the impact of the unfolding crisis in our country and safeguard the hard-won development gains over the past 26 years, to prevent people from falling back into extreme poverty.The coming months may be difficult for everyone, but as South Africans, we are known for our spirit of unity in the midst of diversity, we are known for overcoming adversity, we are known for overcoming many challenges and we have a resilient spirit. We shall overcome this challenge but it will take us working together to get through this crisis and future crises. IF SOUTH AFRICA AND AFRICA UNITE THEN WE SHALL OVERCOME.
Despite the situation in which we find ourselves, I’d like to wish all the mothers a wonderful Mother’s Day today.
PASTOR RAY McCAULEY IS THE PRESIDENT OF RHEMA FAMILY CHURCHES AND CHAIR OF NATIONAL RELIGIOUS LEADERS COUNCIL (NRLC)