Statement issued by the Covid-19 People’s Coalition
So many of our people in South Africa are hungry and landless, and are faced with the indignity of ongoing race and class-based segregation. Since 1994, our government has done little to address this dispossession and exploitation. And during the pandemic, it has enacted massive budget cuts to healthcare, education, water, social grants and municipal services. We warned the Treasury and Parliament that these budget cuts are dehumanising and break the social compact required to rebuild our society, yet the government has unconstitutionally failed to extend even basic social protection during the latest lockdown.
We must hold accountable the politicians including former President Jacob Zuma and a particular cohort of his supporters who allegedly cynically seek to appropriate people’s hunger and desperation for their own short-term gain. However the sitting government cannot deny its own role in creating the conditions for social conflict. We condemn the political targeting of key infrastructure for transporting food, fuel and medicine. This will make the lives of our impoverished people even more difficult. There is opportunistic criminality and legitimate desperation – these truths can be held at the same time.
South Africa wants more. We deserve more. We deserve a government who treats all of us as human beings, with dignity and respect and protects the lives and livelihoods of our people. A militarised solution is never ideal and, as a principle, we are against military deployment. Yet we recognise the unprecedented circumstances of this moment, the harrowing vigilante extremism that must be stopped and spiraling fears of those at danger that require an answer. Where soldiers are deployed for peacekeeping and deescalation, repression of the vulnerable, gender violence and escalation often follow. If the government cannot dare to dream alternatives, and if this is to go ahead, we must hold each and every soldier and police officer to account so as not to repeat the atrocities committed in the Level 5 deployment in 2020 where the SANDF acted as yet another criminal gang. We call on cadres in civil society and grassroots organisations and communities to help mobilise being independent watchdogs in this regard.
The C-19 People’s Coalition calls for a credible break, based on new pathways that are crafted through democratic deliberation. We call for government to:
- Ensure that where the deployment of the military is unavoidable, it is used as a short term tactical intervention aimed at singularly ending the syndicated criminal violence bent on creating conditions of upheaval.
- Focus protection on those who are most vulnerable to political violence, including informal traders and small businesses.
- Stop the state’s tacit and explicit support for xenophobic violence. Protect all who live in South Africa and emphasise that everyone is a valued member of our society whose human rights must be protected.
- Reinstate the Covid SRD grant for the unemployed and caregivers alike, at an increased amount of R585, ensure that SASSA offices are opened and protected and move rapidly to an expanded Basic Income Guarantee of at minimum R1268.
- Roll back the austerity cuts to social services, including healthcare, education and water, so that our people have access to adequate healthcare, decent education, sufficient school nutrition and clean drinking water.
- Ensure that vaccine and chronic medication rollout can continue unhindered, hospital admissions are managed as best as possible in this third wave of the pandemic, and further COVID-19 fatalities are minimised as a result of the unrest.
- Adopt an integrated civil society and community response to establish a holistic roadmap to de-escalate the unrest and provide urgent relief for those affected.
- An urgent public assembly with the President and Ministers of accountable departments, including Treasury, Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs and Social Development to ensure each of the above is adequately addressed through partnership with civil society.
In the face of our highly complex and rapidly changing context, no one person can identify the best response. The securitisation of property alone while rolling back on social relief will have devastating effects. As civil society we have been ignored and excluded at the hands of a kleptocratic political elite for too long. We need the deliberative wisdom of all our people to find our way forward. We deserve a government who engages in mass deliberative democracy, and not just ‘consultation’ with representatives.