Covid 19 And the State of disaster

Wednesday, 3 June 2020

 The COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread in South Africa. So far, more than 32,683 South Africans are infected with COVID-19 and more than 683 people have died from the virus.

It has been more than 60 days since President Cyril Ramaphosa declared a State of Disaster and more than 50 days since lockdown regulations have been implemented. The lockdown, according to experts, have helped the country to flatten the curve.

South Africa officially moved to level 3 lockdown on Monday, 1 June 2020 with the government introducing a host of new regulations around what citizens can and cannot do.  Civil society organizations have raised the concern on how lifting lockdown will affect the public health of the poor and marginalised communities.

There has been a projection of the social and economic impact of the pandemic and measures taken to contain the virus. The national treasury estimated that, in the best case scenario, the South African economy will shrink by 6.1% (measured in GDP), resulting in subsequent massive job losses, and losses of income and livelihoods for millions of South Africans.

The South African government has announced a package of R500 Billion for disaster response and recovery.  A new form of People to People solidarity has also emerged. Many South Africans are supporting each other by providing food parcels, masks, sanitary products, psychosocial support etc.

It must be noted that the national response to COVID-19 is not without its foreseen and unforeseen challenges. The role of civil society is to help identify those challenges and work with state and non-state actors to find solutions. This includes lack of consultation with civil society actors on the implementation of the disaster, human rights concern with the deployment of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF), the missing middle in the implementation of social safety nets and livelihoods support nets in the form of social grants and food parcels, similarly, the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) does not cover all people who have lost jobs and other sources of income. There has been an increase in gender-based violence, and various forms of social problems have emerged, isolation has affected mental health for many.

The South African Working Group (SAWG) on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is concerned by the new narrative that accepts the trade-off between health and lives of poor and vulnerable communities and their livelihoods. This is an extension of the narrative which posits profit before the health and wellbeing of our communities. While understanding the importance of the country’s economy, SAWG recognises the opportunity for developing new ways to ensure prosperity for all while looking after the natural resources

We note with concern that the World Health Organization (WHO) has advised that South Africa is not ready to lower restrictions as it does not meet the organization’s health, emergency and disaster management guidelines

The South African government as a democratic state has a responsibility to safeguard the lives and livelihoods of all and especially the poor and vulnerable.

As South African people go through phases of lockdown and practicing social distancing, we are particularly concerned about the poor and vulnerable as they face a higher risk of infection and mortality as a large section of our society have compromised immune systems due to the prevalence of HIV/AIDS and TB. Many people lack adequate water and sanitation facilities, live in crowded human settlements and rely on public transport systems.

The South African CSO Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals calls for:

  1. The South African Government to provide a space for public participation and engagement with civil society on the implementation of the National Disaster Act.
  2. Government to truly partner with civil society in supporting people-to-people solidarity and in unlocking the “Whole society ” approach to COVID-19
  3. Work to find solutions to the concerns raised around the implementation of the Disaster Management Act and national lockdown including food security and livelihoods, human rights, education and gender-based violence,
  4. Work with CSOs in identifying gaps the emergency response and recovery efforts, and it should be guided by leave no one behind principles,
  5. Further easing of social distancing measures to be guided by WHO recommendations and which should not unnecessary risk the lives of the poor, vulnerable and marginalized groups,
  6. Without undue force, assist communities to apply the necessary social distancing measures
  7. Going forward, the government should consider poverty an urgent matter and respond to it with the same urgency it did COVID-19, including improved economic policies and measures to overcome the unacceptably high levels of inequality in society.


ISSUED BY: AFRICAN MONITOR on behalf of South Africa Working Group (SAWG)

For more information, contact Yared Tsegay on 072 208 4452 OR Joyce Moholola on 082 9749222 or email

The South African Working Group comprises of the following organisations and institutions: African Monitor, HURISA, CSVR, South African Association of Women Graduates, Sonke Gender Justice, EJN, Nature Justice, Jet Education, Salesians of South Africa, Catholic Institute of Education, SCAT, Africa Unite, DRMNO, Afriponics, Oxfam, SANGOCO, NANGOSA, APCOF, CORMSA, MACUA,SANGONET, NADCAO, Democracy Development Programme, SAGDA, National Civic Organisation Alliance, Bright Future Organisation, National Informal Settlements of South Africa, SAYC, BOSWA, Greenpeace Africa, and COSATU



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