Our rationale is that government alone cannot combat a health crisis of this scale; community and wider societal participation is critical if the measures medical science requires us to undertake are to be implemented in a just and equitable manner. The failure of government and the state to fully align itself with this approach has shone light on acute societal problems that as a matter of urgency now need to be addressed.
The People’s Coalition recognises that the pandemic means we will be in the storm of a human catastrophe that will take countless lives and the only way to limit the human cost of this crisis is for government to work alongside all our people.
The C19 People’s Coalition has 10 working groups focusing on issues of; health, food, gender and gender-based violence, basic needs and psycho-social support, economic policy, community organising, repression, education, workers’ rights and regional solidarity. We have a system of providing data to key community activists and organisers, to ensure that their experiences and voices are foregrounded in all we do.
The People are hungry! Top up the Child Support Grant and open the informal sector!
The COVID-19 pandemic is being experienced by most people in South AFRICA primarily as a food crisis. An estimated 5.5 million informal sector workers have lost their livelihoods and have no cash incomes. This affects 16.5 million people.
We reject the term ‘food riots’ which suggests that people are merely angry or ill-disciplined. What we are seeing are food rebellions of the poor – people who say: we will not sit quietly indoors and starve; if we have no alternative, we will take the food we need.
Present efforts to provide food aid illustrate two central problems; constrained capacity and the politicisation of distribution. What we require is the capacity to provide aid to millions across society in a non-partisan manner, this can only be implemented through activating hundreds of thousands of community volunteers to plan, implement and monitor such a programme.
Corporate food system protected: informal sector shut down
The C19 People’s Coalition is organising alternative food distribution systems around the country. [We] also work in poor and vulnerable communities with food producers and sellers, especially in the informal food economy. This economic sector contributes about R360 billion per year to GDP. While commercial farming, corporate supply chains and formal retail have been protected as essential services during the national lock-down. The informal food system which is run primarily by and for the poor, has been largely closed down.
The food crisis and social solidarity
The C19 People’s Coalition welcomes and stands in solidarity with those growing, buying, preparing and giving food to those in need. The Community Action Networks (CANs) exhibit social solidarity. None of this absolves government of its constitutional duty to ensure everyone, citizen or not, has access to sufficient food. If government prevents people from working to get money to buy food, then it must take adequate measures to compensate and ensure people can get the food they need not only to survive but to live a dignified life.
The Coalition sees no way for food aid to reach the required scale, either now or in the aftermath. This food crisis will continue, as businesses close and jobs are lost. Government, even with the best partnerships, simply cannot do it. Food parcels for 20 million people [is improbable, let alone], sustaining it for months. Government’s only option is cash transfers as a way to enable households facing hunger to access food.
Urgent proposals: The C19 People’s Coalition calls on government to:
- Substitute school feeding schemes. Children must be able to collect food from schools or other accessible public points. In the absence of this, poor children are more at risk of malnutrition than of the Coronavirus.
- Open up and support the informal food economy: instruct all state institutions, including the police and army, to support and assist all small-scale farmers, small-scale fishers, informal food traders including those involved with transporting and preparing food, and expedite the issuing of permits.
- Government needs to provide a guaranteed market to supply chains [that] have been interrupted. The Coalition welcomes the R1.2 billion relief fund for small-scale farmers announced by Minister Didiza, and have submitted a proposal for application these funds. The Minister responsible for fisheries must come up with equivalent plans for small-scale fishers.
- Open up public spaces and infrastructure for informal food traders. Enable food vendors to trade safely, close to where people are. People can trade at schools and other public spaces, where they’ll have shelter and access to water.
- Top up the Child Support Grant by R500 for six months, immediately. This being the most far-reaching, pro-poor and pro-women way to compensate for the massive loss of incomes. Government does have the money and can make R40 billion available over the coming 6 months. This will reach 13 million grantees.
Despite having had all this information, and widespread consensus across society, government has not yet made any announcement. We call on the Cabinet to immediately approve and pronounce on these urgent measures. Immediate relief is essential, which is why our primary recommendation in dealing with the food crisis is to top up the Child Support Grant immediately.
Build one universal national health care system now!
The C19 People’s Coalition is concerned by the lack of readiness of the health system to roll out testing and care for the critically ill. Testing now and into the future requires massive expansion far beyond what is currently being implemented. The ability to contain the virus rests on a clear understanding of infection patterns and hot-spots.
The Coalition notes a likely shortage of ICU beds with ventilator access. Integration of the private and public health system must occur as a priority and should contribute to building one universal national health care system. Need before profit.
Using Community Health Workers (CHWs) to screen and follow up people requires clear national coordination and support rather than the discretion of Provincial Health Departments. CHWs must be paid adequately, resourced, supported and trained in safety protocols and supplied with appropriate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) so they are able to perform these critically important duties.
Non-essential workers who are unable to work from home, irrespective of their legal status, should be paid UIF.
The Peoples Coalition insists on appropriate PPE and training be provided for all Health Care Personnel involved in containing the spread of the disease and that systems be put in place to protect their health. Protection of front-line responders and their families must be given utmost priority.
Transparency from government is needed as a matter of urgency, including the structure of ALL decision-making bodies in the COVID response including representation on the Ministerial Advisory Committee on COVID19.
Humanity over Militarisation!
The pandemic is a humanitarian crisis, not a security crisis. The rounding up of the homeless and the evictions of people from informal settlements, the removal and relocation of refugees into camps is immoral. The harassment, beating, and rape of township residents and informal settlement dwellers by police and the army must stop.
No racist scapegoating: close the refugee centres and provide their inmates with housing where they can self-isolate; follow the example of Portugal and Ireland and grant the right to remain to migrants and refugees.
To The Presidency;
- The Minister of Justice and Cooperative Governance to instruct all Metro and local municipalities to bring about an immediate halt to all evictions; including those carried out under the guise of “land invasion” and “de-densification”.
- The Ministers of Police and Defence to immediately cease from using excessive force in enforcing the lock-down and other regulations.
- The appointment of an ombudsman that will investigate all complaints of brutality, violence and corruption.
- A call for the appointment of an independent retired Judge with a record in human rights work to oversee the implementation of the security services of the Disaster Regulations and the actions of State organs in respect of COVID-19.
- Defending of civil liberties: no special powers to the police – restrictions on movement to be enforced by local communities.
Respect Workers’ Rights!
Government must immediately honour the Public Sector Bargaining Council agreement and pay what was agreed. This is not just a matter of trust. Across the world, the welfare of front-line workers has been acknowledged as pivotal to tackling the virus.
Public sector workers are already putting themselves at risk. Denying them the agreed increase is adding insult to injury. It is well known that many highly skilled public sector workers have to take more than one job in order to make ends meet. Nurses for example have been forced into moonlighting for years. This is simply not sustainable.
Even in the throes of the Covid 19 crisis, Government is attempting to maintain its austerity programme by stealth. An austerity programme that has already impoverished working class communities, subjecting them to appalling and worsening levels of inequality, service delivery and poverty. The rich of course, the corrupt, and the chronically wasteful remain largely untouched.
If Government continues to undermine collective bargaining, it will be responsible for workers being left no option but to take industrial action. Claiming that we must all make sacrifices to beat the virus has no meaning when some must sacrifice more than others!
Next steps for The People’s Coalition
The C19 People’s Coalition will be hosting its first mass meeting, an Online People’s Assembly, on Tuesday April 21, 2020; “where we will further gather voices from across the country and develop our responses and proposals.
“We look forward to constructive work with government and others, to ensure a socially and economically just response to the COVID pandemic and its effects on our country,” says C19 People’s Coalition Working Groups Convenor, Mark Weinberg.
The C19 People’s Coalition says it was convened a month ago (March), and includes 250 organisations from across civil society in all provinces, and that it is the broadest grouping of civil society that has come together to address the current crisis. “We have developed a Programme of Action (POA)”, they add.