It has always been one of the biggest fears to have coronavirus hit any one of the slums in South Africa. These fears materialized when a covid19 case hit the slums of Khayelitsha. A slum in the City of Cape, it is listed as one of the top 5 slums in the world by Habitat for Humanity.
Slums and informal settlements have become part of the physical structures of many African cities. Slums such as Khayelitsha have been overcrowded and lacked services even before the threat of the global health crisis emerged.
According to the 2011 census the slum had a population of 391,749 in a 38.71 km2 area. It is stated that the sprawling township has grown rapidly over the past decade and locals estimate the population to be closer to one million.
These are the slums with the informal traders who have been hit hard by the lockdown as they can not afford the day to day living without engaging in their trades which have been put on hold due to the nationwide shutdown. The people living in this slum do not have the protection of income afforded to formally employed people by the government.
In total disregard of the challenges facing the residents of Khayelitsha the city of Cape Town administration has proceeded to cut off water supplies to some residents due to non-payment for the services. Some areas of the area have not had water for over two weeks. Before the lockdown began residents at the Cape Town civic center lives without running water and are at a higher risk of contracting the coronavirus.
There are high rates of poverty in the area and the residents already suffer multiple challenges including unemployment, crime, cramped homes and unsanitary conditions caused by drain blockages which lead to sewage spills into the streets. The decision by the City of Cape Town comes at a time the government of the country is advising people to increase hand washing and general personal hygiene but all such advice is futile with no water in the homes of arguably the most vulnerable and exposed people.
The Western Cape has the second-highest number of covid19 cases in the country trailing to Gauteng. Instead of making decisions that will mitigate the further spread of covid19 the City of Cape town is making decisions that might have adverse effects on a global fight to flatten the curve of the spread of the coronavirus.
The living conditions coupled with a further challenge of lack of water imposed on them by the city make staying inside one’s house (in this instance a shack) impossible. Ndithini Tyhido head of the Khayelitsha development forum said that “we want people to wash their hands and we say this every day with full knowledge that some people do not even have the water to wash their hands.” He further added that the people of Khayelitsha want to listen and want to comply with the directives of government but their living conditions are not conducive for that compliance to happen.
The city of Cape Town should reconnect people to water supplies as everyone is aware of how crucial it is in the achievement of personal hygiene which helps in curbing the spread of the deadly virus. The South African government has been commended for taking a decisive and effective decision through the implementation of the lockdown. The coronavirus is however unchartered territory for the entire world and there is always room to learn and grow.
The South African government can take a page from Rwanda’s methods in the distribution of free food and water to the most vulnerable. South African has been recorded as the most unequal society in the world, therefore, there is a need to bridge that gap during such an epidemic instead of entrenching the inequality by moves such as those by the City of Cape town to leave the most vulnerable people exposed.