The Impact on SADC Countries
Can you imagine the other side of the COVID-19 crisis as it relates to the Southern African Development Community (SADC)? What can be read from the strategies chosen to combat the virus? What does the fate of Black Southern Africans look like after COVID-19? Khethiwe Mnganga centers the legacy of the Black experience in her exploration of the pandemic’s impact on historically vulnerable SADC countries.
(Cover Art Credit: Abstract by Esther Mahlangu, 2014. Image courtesy of 34FineArt)
Coronavirus has only just hit the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Region in the last few weeks. As many broadcasters have already documented, there are multiple reasons why COVID-19 could have devastating impact on these African countries and why it may not. Factors including the hotter climate and younger median age in SADC countries are significant in measuring the extent of COVID-19’s anguish. Especially when compared to countries that have suffered the most, like China and Italy, where the virus thrived in their coldest seasons and the median age is 20 + years compared to countries like Botswana.
With this said, existing immuno-comprising and respiratory health conditions, particularly HIV / AIDS and Tuberculosis (TB) which continue to rampage the majority of the SADC, coupled with severe poverty, strained health resources and orphaned minors, are the primary drivers that are influencing African leaders to counterattack the pervasive nature of COVID-19.
While all of this information is widely available and fairly intuitive, there is merit in examining and unpacking the indigenous practices and measures that African countries have turned towards during this unprecedented time. Which people are being centered in national discourse? What kind of outcomes will these measures produce on the other side of the global pandemic? Most countries have closed their national borders and issued a national state of disaster, while other countries are taking preventative approaches, like Malawi who have only confirmed eight positive cases as of April 8, 2020.
Substituting an economic and political lens with a speculative mind that privileges the history of Africa and the African diaspora, and the existing structures and functioning of human societies and cultures, we can try to imagine what the other side of COVID-19 might look like for certain African countries.
A few European countries have adopted what we would call socialist strategies: Seizing all hospitals into state authority, nationalizing resources, and state-determined civilian activity. Despite also closing national borders and enforcing temporary lockdowns on non-essential operations, South Africa (which leads the continent with approximately 1,845 positive cases for COVID-19 as of 8 April 8, 2020, with the first case reported on the March 5), turned to White monopoly capitalism to circumvent the damage COVID-19 has the potential to cause.
On March 23, the South African president stated that the country would adopt a model that supports public private interplay to protect constituents that would be vulnerable to COVID-19’s reign. The country will mostly depend on private sector resources to financially support and protect vulnerable people and businesses. One of the first acts of this agenda being that the National Health Minister hailed private healthcare to provide half of their capacity towards the general public.
We could look at this as an indigenous strategy that centers a poor Black population in effective policy. Given that these White corporations garnered success through a severely unequal and racially exploitative climate, we could also extend it further into thinking of this plan as a Black retributive measure that forces a rich, White, 1% population to support a poor Black majority, which it might also be.
However, it would be myopic to neglect the idea that these public private partnerships come with great incentives and control for the private sector, and inevitably, the rich, White, 1% population in South Africa. Following that, so far the Coronavirus has largely attacked the White middle class in South Africa — the irony is not lost in the response of the private sector. This is not the first virus of pandemic proportion to afflict South Africans, yet the first reaction of this nature from the private sector.
What happens if we think about all of this in the context of the legacy of racialized inequality in South Africa? In the continuous struggle for freedom for Black South Africans, to what extent have COVID-19 and these chosen measures potentially pushed Black freedom in South Africa and the diaspora further into the periphery?
The democratization of South Africa has been criticized largely as a reproduction of colonial practice, supporting racist capitalism that maintains existing unequal power structures. This public private partnership COVID-19 measure employs practices akin to fierce capitalism to rescue the destitute of a capitalist-manifested virus.
In other words, fixing capitalism with capitalism in an African country reinforces an unrelenting grip that colonialism holds on Africa, where European countries are surprisingly turning towards socialist strategies.
Although these measures have been put into place in the interests of a poor Black majority population, how long will the dependence on or the desire for White monopoly capital to atone the sins of Apartheid persist? (When will the African diaspora refuse to allow monopoly capital to atone sins of the past?) Arguably, these strategies might mirror the nature of the approaches to democratization and the Rainbow Nation that millennial and born free South Africans currently lament. Alongside an inevitable rise in unemployment, business closures and higher basic education failure rates, what future do these strategies craft for South Africa?
Thinking about our Black small business owners, Black freelancers, Black sex workers, Black per diem workers, Black disability communities, Black artists and Black recent graduates whose chances to touch the horizon have been curtailed. To what extent have their chances of emancipation from a colonial system been thrown into crisis?
With all of that said, where are the humanitarian interventions? Donated medical equipment donated from the private sector? Support for graduating high schoolers who are still hoping to get into university?
Are these our indigenous tools? Does South Africa have indigenous tools to turn towards? Where do we begin to do the work to sharpen them without re-enacting violences of the past? Or are these agendas impossible to even try to imagine?
Currently, civil society structures that evolved in the post-Apartheid era are pro-actively engaging with various government departments to ensure the needs of their constituencies are appropriately addressed. Once again, it is left to the people on the ground to stimulate an alternative discourse to overcome imperialist structures. These are the indigenous tools created by the people that are being utilized in the interests of protecting vulnerable people.
So what does the other side of the global pandemic look like for Black South Africans? Staying loyal to a speculative mind, based on history and conjecture, the other side of COVID-19 already looks grim for all, but it could also be an opportunity to begin exploring alternative African strategies across the African continent and the diaspora…The Liberation Struggle, the Maafa; the Black Struggle for Freedom.
Born and raised in Durban, South Africa, Khethiwe Mnganga completed her undergraduate degree in South Africa, majoring in English Literature and Political Sciences with a special emphasis on English Studies. As a student of New York University graduate program in the Social and Cultural Analysis Department, Khethiwe first joined MoCADA as an intern, and now as the Social Justice Programming & Outreach Associate, where she is responsible for liaising with progressive leaders, social justice workers, activists and advocates to create unique partnerships and workshops that bridge social divides within our communities.