If we, SA’s privileged, don’t give generously now, we will pay ...

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If we, SA’s privileged, don’t give generously now, we will pay dearly later

Without donations from us, mass starvation is inevitable and, with it, a dire threat to our democracy

Editor: Vrye Weekblad
If we ignore the catastrophic effect the lockdown is going to have on millions of our fellow South Africans, we put our entire democracy at risk.
red alert If we ignore the catastrophic effect the lockdown is going to have on millions of our fellow South Africans, we put our entire democracy at risk.
Image: Alon Skuy

I haven’t left my property in five days. I feel like a baboon trapped in a cage. I irritate my family and they irritate me.

But when I look through my window, I see the wide expanse of False Bay in front of me. I share my home with my wife and our teenager. We have wifi, Netflix, DStv and many, many books. Our fridge is packed with food. There are bottles of hand sanitiser all over the house. We have running hot and cold water, and three toilets.

A man in his forties called Whisper installed a door in my house last Thursday. He lives in Khayelitsha in a tiny shack made of corrugated iron and plastic. His stand is smaller than my lounge, he told me. He shares that space with five people. Their toilet and single tap are outside the house.

Whisper is a “piece worker” for a building contractor. If he doesn’t work, he doesn’t get paid. He has no savings and can’t get a loan or an overdraft from the bank.

Many of us in the middle classes moan, as the old Afrikaans saying goes, with a white loaf under the arm.

Where will Whisper and his family get food this week? If they comply with the lockdown, what will it be like in two weeks, with the six of them staring at each other in that tiny space with no wifi, TV or books?

The first coronavirus infection in Khayelitsha was reported at the weekend. When will it reach squatter camps like Diepsloot, Masiphumelele and Imizamo Yethu?

Many of us in the middle classes moan, as the old Afrikaans saying goes, with a white loaf under the arm.

By the way, it is by no means certain that the lockdown will end on April 16. If the infection rate hasn’t peaked by then, we may well be in lockdown well into May. I’ll look across the bay to Khayelitsha, think of Whisper and feel ... Feel what? Gratitude that I’m so privileged? Guilt? Anger? Sadness? Despair?

I think there is broad consensus that the limitation on our freedom of movement is the correct move. Most agree that we have to “flatten the curve” of infections so our health services have even a remote chance of coping.

But do enough of us fully realise the consequences of this decision to save lives? That it will leave millions of South Africans without jobs — that is, more than the 10 million who are already unemployed?

Have we processed that hundreds of thousands of people, most of them young, will not have enough food to eat in the weeks and months to come? This will undermine people’s health and children’s development. In fact, some people will die of hunger. In SA in 2020.

What a terrible, terrible thought.

The government is taking steps with its limited resources to save small and medium companies from total ruin and to help them pay their workers. The Rupert, Oppenheimer and Motsepe families have each donated R1bn, and hopefully some other billionaires, too.

But it seems to me when it comes to feeding people, especially children, in townships and informal settlements, civil society will have to come to the rescue. You and I.

I hope the faith communities will act immediately. What is your congregation, mosque, synagogue or temple doing?

We don’t know what is going to happen next, but we have to be prepared for a scenario where there will be grave human suffering and many thousands of deaths.

If you want to contribute and can’t get involved in an initiative, my advice is to contribute financially (and generously) to Gift of the Givers. We know we can trust it with our money and we know it is a highly effective NGO. It’s already helping the state with testing for the virus, with the provision of water to townships and has just donated a large amount of masks and bottles of sanitiser to hospitals.

We don’t know what is going to happen next, but we have to be prepared for a scenario where there will be grave human suffering and many thousands of deaths.

Each one of us should now consider how we will judge our attitudes and actions during this time once the crisis is over. It will be too late for regrets.

I sit safely in my lounge with its lovely ocean view, cup of coffee in my hand and watch YouTube clips of soldiers and police beating up and humiliating township dwellers who appear to ignore the rules of the lockdown.

Whisper could be one of them, if he couldn’t stand the tiny space and risked a stroll down the street.

Life in an over-populated settlement is already precarious and the coronavirus crisis will increase the tension substantially. If our armed forces disregard the advice of our president and employ sjamboks and rubber bullets instead of compassion and empathy, it could unleash localised uprisings that could endanger our precious stability.

Human solidarity is going to be key to surviving this catastrophe, people say.

How do you and I contribute to that, make it happen?

Max du Preez is the publisher of vryeweekblad.com.

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