Govt cops flak from tripartite alliance for ‘heavy handed’ ...

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Govt cops flak from tripartite alliance for ‘heavy handed’ lockdown

It’s relied too heavy on police and the army while the state looks ‘insensitive to the needs of the majority’

Sthembile Cele
The army patrol Sejwetla, an informal settlement in Alexandra, Joburg. In practice, implementation of the lockdown has relied primarily on the police and army, with little visible effort to mobilise community support, a document says.
Lockdown fatigue The army patrol Sejwetla, an informal settlement in Alexandra, Joburg. In practice, implementation of the lockdown has relied primarily on the police and army, with little visible effort to mobilise community support, a document says.
Image: Alon Skuy/File

The tripartite alliance is warning the government that the lockdown’s legitimacy is at risk given the unintended consequence of favouring some parts of society while leaving others in the lurch.

It also warned that government “appears insensitive” to the needs of the majority, and that the lockdown enforcement had been heavy handed.

Conceding that current measures by the government are not without fault, the alliance – made up of the ANC, the Congress of SA Trade Unions (Cosatu) and the SA Communist Party (SACP) – is proposing additional resources for the UIF, an expansion of the income social grants, and delaying of municipal and national taxes.

The alliance makes this frank assessment of the nationwide lockdown in a discussion document which is the culmination of a series of meetings and consultations to pave the way forward for the country amid the Covid-19 crisis.

At the onset of the crisis in March, the alliance formulated a task team – spearheaded by ANC deputy secretary-general Jessie Duarte – to produce a single response which would be signed off by the alliance as the blueprint for the coming months.

Among the alliance’s concerns was food security and the threat posed to it by the mechanisms used to contain the virus.

“Given the unequal impact of the lockdown, its legitimacy can be threatened if the government appears insensitive to the needs of the majority or enforcement is seen as unnecessarily heavy handed. In practice, implementation has relied primarily on the police and army, with little visible effort to mobilise community support. In these circumstances, cases of violence against residents, even deaths, risk de-legitimising the entire lockdown project.

“Similarly, continued forced evictions in informal settlements during the lockdown, however legally defensible, seemed likely to increase resentment as well as make control of Covid-19 more difficult,” the document reads.

The alliance also wants the government to make it clear that relief measures were temporary and will be ‘ramped down’ once the country is in the clear.

As it stands, the SA National Defence Force is accused of killing Collins Khosa in Alexandra township during enforcement operations. Police watchdog, the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (Ipid), told parliament at the beginning of May that at least 10 people had died from police action at the time.

Furthermore, 376 cases had been laid with Ipid, of which 280 were assault and 79 were related to the discharge of firearms, and corruption.

“Most low-income communities have seen only limited and delayed implementation of promised support programmes. The largest single support programme, the use of the UIF to cushion job losses, had not made massive payments by mid-April. Access to food relief was unpredictable and poorly monitored, so it was impossible to discover how many households had actually benefited,” the document reads.

The SA Social Security Agency (Sassa) announced this week that it had made payments of R350 to about 116,000 people who qualified for the Corona grant announced by President Cyril Ramaphosa in April. The entity said it had received 6.3 million valid applications.

“We must continue to monitor the situation in terms of food in the country, even though indications are that we are fine for at least this year – but it must be rigorously monitored. This should also be done within the Southern African Development Community (SADC) regional context, given the impact on SA of hunger in any part of the region,” the discussion document reads.

The alliance also wants the government to make it clear that relief measures are temporary and will be “ramped down” once the country is in the clear.

The document calls for the government to give greater capacity to the UIF – which has disbursed around R8bn in coronavirus-related claims – to enable it to keep up with the growing demands on its infrastructure as the economy battles to revive itself.

Other proposals include an extension of social grants, efforts to reduce fixed costs for sectors, and increased support for medical research and development centres such as the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, the National Institute for Communicable Diseases, and the Human Sciences Research Council.

“Expand basic minimum income social grants support by considering proposals such as an increase in the child grant to make up for the school feeding scheme, an introduction of a time-bound Covid-19 grant for long-term unemployment, also covering workers in the informal sector. Consider the proposal for [Sassa to provide grant recipients with food parcels as well, at the next payout date, especially pensioners who are a particularly vulnerable group. Explore the feasibility of replacing the food parcels with food vouchers.

“In addition, large-scale efforts should be made to reduce fixed costs for sectors severely impacted by Covid-19, for instance by delaying municipal and national taxes,” the document states.