Pandemic underlines serious inequality in South Africa and the need to address it

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Now more than ever, South Africans have a hard time recognizing the inequality that continues to manifest in the country. In people's lives before COVID-19, the realities of life in a country that among the most unequal the world were easily overlooked. The pandemic very brightly illuminates this reality. He asks us to address them fundamentally – not only during this time of the pandemic, but also as an imperative of social justice.

As reports of coronavirus prevention spread, the effects of inequality in the provision of basic services in the country became apparent. These differences between rich and poor are reflected in a number of interventions which were created to combat the pandemic and its socio-economic consequences. These include access to water, housing, and the very high dependence of people on social subsidies and the informal sector to generate income.

Five areas where inequality is most serious

Life circumstances: preventive action emphasized inequality in life circumstances. Take a case of hand washing. 1.1 to 1.4 million People living in informal settlements in South Africa do not have access to water in their homes or in their yards. Estimated 19% almost 19 million people live in rural areas lack of access to reliable sources of clean water; 33% do not have basic sanitationThis makes regular hand washing difficult. And social distancing or quarantine is almost impossible when access to water and bathing are common, and settlements are crowded.

life support: For many people at the top of the salary spectrum, working remotely was relatively easy, with limited impact on their ability to earn a living. Such workers are on the official labor market. They are protected by both legal and Social contract as well as security network unemployment benefits,

Small business owners will be under significant pressure in the coming weeks and months. But they will be partially mitigated business support measures declared by the government.

On the contrary, the most vulnerable workers will struggle without support at this time. Employees (like many domestic workers) who are self-employed (such as Uber drivers) and who work in the informal economy are not protected by legal contracts.

In general, these workers, who make up more than 20% of the workforce in South Africa, do not have access to unemployment benefits. They will be under tremendous financial pressure, potentially unable to feed themselves and their families.

President Cyril Ramafosa made it clear that the government is aware of these problems and will move to provide supportBut it remains to be seen what this entails.

Education: Inequalities in education also immediately became apparent after the school closed. Until private schools and many suburban public schools were able to switch to education with technological support relatively easily; most public schools failed.

Department of Basic Education directive was to ensure continued education provision of workbooks and worksheets online. But many parents will face a real struggle to support their families in a closed economy. This and other issues, including limited access to technology and data, mean that many parents will struggle to control their children's education.

Equally important is how this will affect long-term education outcomes. Analysis already shows how, over time, delays in learning in the early years, formed in an unequal education system, worsen. Further delays in the current situation may have long-term consequences.

Internet access: Manuel Castells, a sociologist involved in the Internet and inequalitynotes in his book Internet galaxy: “Fundamental digital inequality is measured not by the number of Internet connections, but by the consequences of both the connection and the lack of connection.”

At universities and other higher education institutions, wealthier students have been able to move quickly to online learning, while poorer students struggle with the high cost of data.

Inequalities in access to data further exacerbate existing inequalities in education and livelihoods during the COVID-19 crisis.

Food security: The effect of panic shopping on food security people with limited income received attention. But the lesser-known effect of these measures is that more than 9 million children will not receive daily nutritious food while schools remain closed.

A national school feeding program can have a positive effect on reduced growth retardation and obesityIn the face of prolonged school closure, these children face increased food insecurity, which can have long-term health consequences.

There were sincere answers from the public to ensure that food packages are provided to children. But it is simply impossible to reach over 9 million children who depend on this meal.

What can be done?

Measures announced The President of Ramafos, in order to alleviate the problem, reflects an understanding of how existing inequality will affect, especially the most vulnerable people, and a willingness to solve the problem.

Social protection measures that can quickly provide safety net are critical at this time. But the current social protection system provides protection only to those who are outside the labor market – children, the elderly and the disabled. Unemployment benefits are paid to those with formal employment who contribute to the Unemployment Insurance Fund. This leaves the vast majority of working-age adults currently without a protective net.

Although relatively rapid changes have occurred in existing mechanisms to ensure support for small, medium and micro enterprises so far, there are no measures to protect informal and casual workers and to ensure the flow of funds into vulnerable households.

A country must develop a social contract to better cope with vulnerabilities such as low wages, casual and informal workers face daily,

The country must also move towards creating affordable and reliable Internet access that can open up training and work opportunities for the most vulnerable citizens. Basic services such as clean water, electricity and sanitation should also be of a quality that not only promotes people's right to dignity, but also helps protect people from the effects of a pandemic like COVID-19.

This pandemic underscores the importance of fundamentally combating the inequalities that exist in South African society. If the imperative of social justice does not push us to this, it is possible to realize the reciprocal ties generated by a pandemic that knows neither classes nor races.

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Pandemic underlines serious inequality in South Africa and the need to address it (April 6, 2020)
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