Study on effectiveness of responses to Covid-19 in the Witzenberg area
27 April 2021
Ceres - The Witzenberg Justice Coalition is today launching a study on the effectiveness of responses to Covid-19 in Witzenberg. 27 April is the day that South Africans commemorate Freedom Day - twenty seven years ago, we went to the polls to vote in the country's first non-racial, democratic elections. It was a hopeful time of exercising new political rights.
South Africa's Constitution is respected all over the world as being progressive. The bill of rights contained in the Constitution says, among other things, that everyone has the right to access to: health care services, sufficient food and water, adequate housing and social security, including, if they are unable to support themselves and their dependents. When conducting the study, we wanted to know to if people in Witzenberg were experiencing challenges in rights realisation during lock down.
The study was conducted between July and October 2020. This was a time when part of the response to the Covid-19 pandemic was to implement a hard lock down. The aim of the study was to determine how households in the Witzenberg area have been impacted by COVID-19 and gauge the effectiveness of responses by the state, business and not for profit sector in supporting households to meet their basic needs.
The study finds that in Witzenberg there were human rights reversals due to the pandemic and lock down. It concludes that some respondents have experienced reversals of rights realisation. Respondents in the Witzenberg area described increased difficulties in satisfying their basic needs.
Hunger worsened during lock down when freedom of movement was severely limited by disaster regulations. Respondents income was affected by lock down. The majority of respondents did not have a cash income and said that they had gone without food several times since lock down started. The top reason given for access to food being a challenge was a lack of money.
Most respondents were unemployed. More said they were actively seeking work than describing themselves as discouraged work seekers. Many respondents related distress about ways in which their basic human rights are not being realised.
While having to stay at home, respondents daily lives were burdened by interacting with weak service delivery. The top three services that respondents wanted to see improved were: (1) healthcare, (2) housing and (3) access to electricity.
Based on the results of the study, the following recommendations are made:
Government should prioritize the implementation of a Basic Income Grant.
South African Human Rights Commission to look into whether the practice of using prepaid water meters is undermining the Constitutional right to access to water.
Says Witzenberg Justice Coalition's Naomi Betana, "A lot of residents of Witzenberg are struggling with not enough to eat. Some of the most vulnerable residents are going through lock down in the dark with no electricity and with too little water. Every day as activists we are seeing massive arrears bills that people will never be able to catch up with." Betana continues "If municipalities did a rates relief exercise that forgives the arrears it would really help people, but municipalities don't seem to care about poor people as much as they care about chasing them for revenue for the municipality and spending that on things people don't think are priorities".
Twenty-seven years since first casting a ballot, in Witzenberg and in the rest of the country people are going through extremely tough times. Things need to be done a lot differently if the rights contained in the Constitution will be the lived experience of more people and not only nice words on paper.