By Kotie Geldenhuys
Photos by Ashraf Hendricks/GroundUp; Masixole Feni/GroundUp and James Stent/GroundUp
COVID-19 affects almost every facet of people’s lives and nobody has been left untouched. The measures, such as lockdowns, which governments have been taking to contain COVID-19 affect households in many ways, including job security, the loss of income, increased prices, rationing of food and other basic goods. There have also been disruptions to health care services and the educational system. Despite many of us feeling sorry for ourselves due to the restrictions imposed in terms of disaster regulations, the reality is that the poor and the homeless have probably suffered the most under these regulations.
In an attempt to limit the spread of COVID-19, policy-makers around the world have the difficult task of balancing the positive health effects of lockdowns against their economic costs. In South Africa, the regulations issued in terms of the Disaster Management Act 57 of 2002 are relatively stringent and the economic impact has been enormous, especially on low-income and food-insecure households.
To prevent the spread of COVID-19, non-essential industries were ordered to cease operations to a great extent resulting in major job losses across the world. By mid-July 2020, it was reported that three million South Africans had lost their jobs as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent lockdown. Of those who managed to keep their jobs, 1.5 million people were still left without an income for many months (Tswanya, 2020). Many others had to take salary cuts or wave their performance bonuses goodbye. During April 2020, the World Bank projected that COVID-19 would push approximately 49 million people around the globe into extreme poverty, with almost half of the projected new poor, around 23 million, living in Sub-Saharan Africa (Sánchez Páramo, 2020).
COVID-19 LOCKDOWN AND THE POOR
When South Africa implemented the COVID-19 lockdown to slow the rate at which the virus could spread at the end of March 2020, the country faced very different challenges to Western countries. As one of the most unequal countries, it is estimated that around 30.4 million people or 56% of the South African population live on R1227 or less a month (Newham and Du Plessis, 2020). The World Bank argues that while the impact will be felt almost immediately by the majority of households, the poor will most likely have a more intense and longer-lasting experience due to their vulnerability for reasons such as where they stay and work and their dependency on public services such as health and education (Sánchez Páramo, 2020). These reasons will be discussed briefly below.
The areas where the poor live
As the poor primarily live in rural areas, it might have initially minimised their exposure to the virus, but simultaneously it means that they have limited access to health services. With many rural households depending on income from urban migrants who have been affected by the economic shutdown, they also feel the financial impact the lockdown has (Sánchez Páramo, 2020).
A great concern however, is the poor in urban areas and townships. Millions of people live in single rooms and cramped conditions in congested informal settlements with low-quality services, which might significantly increase their risk of being infected. Others live in overcrowded inner-city buildings. Should any person in a household where a family shares a single room house, become infected with the virus, there is no place where they can isolate. It is also extremely difficult, if not almost impossible, for such big, poor families to stay indoors during hard lockdowns. It is important to keep in mind that many of the small houses in informal townships are built very close to one another, with no yards. When they exit their small house, they are virtually right on their neighbours' doorstep or on the pavement. This housing nightmare has meant that people living in poor and over-populated townships faced the brunt of police and SANDF members who enforced regulations during level 5 lockdown.