National shutdowns and closure of none essential services might be the best way to curb the rampant spread of the coronavirus. Governments worldwide are trying to implement measures to ensure they successfully flatten the curve of the spread of covid19.
Some African countries including South Africa and Rwanda have implemented national shutdowns in which business will come to a close. The South African Shut down will run from Thursday 26th March 2020 for the ensuing 20 days (making it a 21-day Lockdown).
Implementation of Lockdowns is a very commendable move. In South Africa, the national army has been deployed to ensure people's adherence to the guidelines of the shutdown. The Rainbow Country has been experiencing a rampant upsurge of covid19 infections daily with a confirmed case standing at 554. The pandemic has triggered the leadership of the country to resort to shutting down the country for 21 days. The government has ensured measures for the security of employment during the lockdown and has put in place measures for people to be paid.
Meanwhile, The Rupert and Oppenheimer families have donated 1 Billion Rands each to pay employees and help businesses in distress.
This is commendable leadership but what are the odds that such measures are airtight in ensuring the well-being of all South Africans where 3 million people are reported to be working in the informal sector. More importantly, can the rest of Africa emulate the South African model in the Shutdown?
According to the International Labour Organization, 85.8% of employment on the continent is informal. In other continents, the percentage is relatively low Asia and The Pacific – 68.2%, Arab States – 68.6%, The Americas – 40%, Europe and Central Asia – 25.1%. If then African states emulate the South African model what is going to happen to the 85.8% who basically lead a “hand to mouth” model of survival as they will not be allowed to trade. In the face of this global crisis, measures are in place to stop the continuous spread of covid19. However, people in the informal sector in the event of a lockdown are put in a precarious position. The street trade which will pose a risk not only to themselves but their entire nations.
Informal trading in countries like Zimbabwe does not encourage saving because of rampant inflation, this leaves the informal traders exposed in the event of a national shut down similar to one implemented in South Africa.
There is a need to acknowledge that due to the continent’s slow development not many people are formally employed. In times like these which are unfamiliar territory, there is a need for the governments to acknowledge the exposure of the informal traders.
The spread of covid19 has permeated all aspects of life for everyone. The government's reaction to the wellbeing of all of its citizens during this time is important in rethinking inequality and access to proper healthcare. If handled without due care and attention it could further entrench already existent divides.
The implementation of national lockdowns is crucial if there is going to be a successful flattening of the curve. However African governments need to think around the best way to practically implement a policy that is safeguarded and ensures the well being of as many of their citizens as possible.
The informal traders’ live-in high-density areas where social distancing is a myth, they stay in cramped spaces and travel to work in cramped modes of transport which makes them more vulnerable to infection. This further makes them possible carriers to spread the virus. Slums and informal structures are present across Africa some with low to no access to water which is essential to practicing a high level of hygiene.
Karsten Noko of Aljazeera highlighted how impractical it is to socially distance across the continent’s slums, “Alexandra in Johannesburg has over 700,000 people estimated to live in less than 5 square kilometers (1.9 square miles), Mbare in Harare with some 800,000 people, Kibera in Nairobi with at least 250,000 and Makoko in Lagos with over 300,000 whose homes are built on stilts in a lagoon.
These conditions make the practical aspects of shutdowns extremely hard. The moment one person in these areas is infected the entire area can become a breeding ground of the virus.
Informal traders lack the luxury of a work from home option in most cases. Most of these traders sell vegetables, second-hand clothing, fruits amongst others and they cannot afford to do this from home.
African governments should consider all their citizens when implementing policies to curb the rampant spread of the virus. The flattening of the curve is a very crucial exercise that should be done to stop this global pandemic but it should also be done with all citizens in mind.