Communities, not government, can and are fighting COVID-19
- Karl von Holdt and Tasneem Essop
The heavy-handed, top-down approach during the lockdown has not worked; NGOs, coalitions and community networks have.
A popular movement has arisen with extraordinary rapidity in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. With the announcement of a state of disaster, activists in communities across the country mobilised to protect their communities.
For example, the Amadiba Crisis Committee, established to fight against the destruction of land by mining on the Wild Coast, formed teams to move from household to household distributing sanitiser and talking about the necessity for physical-distancing.
In Khayelitsha, Cape Town, the Social Justice Coalition formed a community action network (CAN) and mobilised to demand water tanks from the city — which actually arrived within a week. The CAN, too, organised teams to inform community members about how to respond to the pandemic. The broader CAN movement in Cape Town has expanded to play a similar role.
In Ekurhuleni, the General Industries Workers Union of SA and the Casual Workers Advice Office printed 700,000 pamphlets about the coronavirus, distributing these at taxi ranks and in communities, and also made their own sanitiser for distribution. The street patrollers in the Yeoville Community Policing Forum marshalled at the long queues at local supermarkets, encouraging physical-distancing and resolving conflicts.
These few examples show faster, more agile and more effective responses than most state activities.
Meanwhile, at the national level, a diverse network of activists came together with the aim of co-ordinating a popular response to the state of disaster and the pandemic.