Azania/South Africa: Address the Entire Socio-Economic and Political System, Not Just the Current Pandemic
Statement by Ashraf Jooma, on behalf of the Black Republic Editorial Collective (Azania/South Africa)
Dated: 18 March 2020
The exponential increase in the number of COVID-19 infections from 85 to 116, overnight, in South Africa, has raised questions with regards, the timeous response and program of the government, in dealing with the pandemic, as well as those of Capital (big business), and the labour movement.
The pandemic will most certainly affect the work environment; administration, financial, sales and operations of production and distributions.
The pandemic will most certainly have a devastating effect on the working class and its communities, who have been bearing the brunt of all the austerity measures as far back as the early 1990s, when Mandela asked the nation to tighten its belt, to ensure better days, while wilfully initiating and implementing Economic Structural Adjustments Programs (ESAP), imbedded in all the programs of the ANC government-led progams — from the Reconstruction and Development Program (RDP), to Growth, Employment And Redistribution (GEAR), and now the National Development Plan (NDP). Privatisation under the guise of “mixed economy and the creation of wealth and jobs” in 1992, was given full impetus when in 1996, Mandela, following a visit to Germany in May 1996, declared that, “Privatisation is the fundamental policy of the ANC and is going to be implemented. [i]
This policy has led to the majority Black population being without housing, water, sanitation and nutrition. [ii] These are essential in the fundamental well-being of individuals, in combating all kinds of diseases. Yet the majority live in overcrowded shacks, and therefore cannot self-isolate! They live without clean, running water, and cannot regularly wash their hands. They do not have a proper daily nutrition, and therefore are vulnerable to opportunistic infections!
This policy of privatisation has resulted in the creation of one of the most unequal societies in the world. All the talk and hearings about addressing corruption (which is endemic to the system of private accumulation), without concomitant action of expropriating those responsible, would be fruitless. The wealth needs to be returned to the people, to address the disparities in society, and to capacitate the government to address national emergencies and disasters.
With every crisis come opportunities. This Capital knows very well, and will capitalise on it as its always done. The state needs to protect its citizens from challenges of supply and demand and inflated prices, by being the only produces and supplier of these medical preventative instruments such as masks, gloves, protective suits and sanitisers.
The state should commandeer all medical equipment manufacturing facilities, private laboratories and hospitals/clinics, to ensure access to those that cannot afford access. This will test the will for a National Health Insurance (the NHI). The South African health system has been facing a systemic crisis due to years of underfunding due to neoliberal austerity for over a quarter of a century. Expropriation in the public interest – on a temporary basis – is consistent with the South African constitution.
Only radical changes in the health system, that of socialising medical and health care will ensure that we confront this pandemic, and in the process alter the system to benefit its entire people going forward.
The working class should use this opportunity to ensure that society moves away from individual selfish private accumulation and socialise/nationalise all resources, to refocus on humanism and not profit and greed.
In a society based on gross inequality and polarisation, the effect of any epidemic or pandemic will affect the working class (who are just one pay check away from poverty!) and its communities more adversely than those of privilege. Yes, the virus does not discriminate, but its impact on the working class and its poor communities, will be a disaster, due to the socio-economic condition created by capitalism.
We have seen evidence of this, not only in emerging viruses, such as HIV, Ebola, H1N12, but also in simple common colds and flues, and the carcinogens that are in and spread by the foods we consume, which have been treated with pesticides and other harmful chemicals, allegedly linked to controversial companies like Monsanto.
The state (with capital and labour) needs to come up with a comprehensive package of interventions to mitigate the expected impact of COVID-19 on the economy, especially on the working class and its communities. This should be funded by the state and international capital institutions like the IMF/World Bank as donations and not loans.
We demand that:
- All wages need to be paid in full to all workers unable to work for whatever reason relating to the pandemic. Arrangements must be made to capacitate workers to work from home.
- All rents, bonds and loans repayments be suspended indefinitely.
- All workers, permanent and temporary/contract, must be covered by sick pay.
- Compel all employers to disinfect and provide masks, gloves and sanitisers to workers.
- Compel all public transport facilities to disinfect and provide preventative instruments and measures. Most workers use public transport and are at high risk.
- Immediately suspend all issues relating to energy and water – stop all suspensions / disconnections and re-instate access by suspending all charges for water and address the crisis in water scarce areas.
- Provide an income grant to all unemployed.
- Set up safe childcare facilities
- Provide adequate facilities near informal settlements for those isolating.
- Organise distribution of healthy meals and supplements for all those on low incomes or unemployed, the elderly and children
- Introduce free testing for all.
- Organise/establish voluntary youth (on a stipend) and medical brigades to organise and assist amongst the most vulnerable; the Black working class and its communities.
- That all national and international debt be suspended and or cancelled especially for impoverished nations, and for donor funds to be made available by the international finance institutions; the IMF and World Bank and multinationals/transnationals corporations to assist in combating this pandemic and rebuild their infrastructure and economies. Don’t pay the debt!
[i] Financial Mail, 31 May 1996
[ii] With schools and crèches being closed, large numbers of children will not receive the minimum nutrition that they received at some of these schools.