Coronavirus in Southern Africa: Let's also Fight Chauvinism

The common enemy at this moment is the virus and we must build solidarity into all actions being taken, and avoid chauvinistic messages.

The Southern African region of Public Services International (PSI) is concerned by the rising number of cases of Corona Virus disease (COVID-19) in the southern African countries.

The pandemic requires strong and urgent action to ensure that members of our affiliates, all other workers, their families and communities are well informed and protected. South Africa has reported 64 cases of people with COVID-19 with internal transmissions, Namibia has 2 cases, and Swaziland has 1 case.

Our sub-region faces a number of challenges that makes the rapid rate of contagion of the disease difficult to overcome. The first major challenge is the lack of capacity of our public health systems to cope with a pandemic, due to years of underfunding.

Secondly is that a high number of people live in poverty without access to basic services such as water, electricity, proper sanitation and nutrition. The result of the latter is hunger, malnutrition which makes low immunity commonplace. In this situation, mitigating the spread of the virus is especially important to allow governments time to put measures in place to try to deal with the spread of the virus, and to limit the number of people requiring hospitalisation.

We, therefore, welcome the South African government’s response to take proactive measures to try to limit the number of transmissions. We also welcome the travel and other restrictions in place by countries in the sub-region to try to proactively limit the spread of the virus. We must, however, stress the need to guard against such steps being presented in ways and manners that could divide us across borderlines.

The common enemy at this moment is the virus and we must build solidarity into all actions being taken, and avoid chauvinistic messages.

PSI affiliates in the sub-region and globally have been at the frontline in responding to the pandemic. The risks of infection of frontline workers and the spread of infection to their loved ones are high.

We urge governments to protect trade union and labour rights in this pandemic. In particular, we urge governments to ensure that workers have the appropriate personal protective equipment, that workers have adequate sick leave and treatment upon infection.

We also urge governments to ensure workers have paid leave when voluntarily quarantining themselves or made to stop work as a preventive measure. Putting in place measures to ensure adequate Occupation Health and Safety is crucial in this time as we depend on health workers to beat this pandemic.

Finally, we urge governments to take the example of South Africa by being transparent and open about the risks and rates of infection.

This crisis more than ever highlights the necessity for strong public health systems. We welcome the move by Spain to nationalise private hospitals to ensure that everyone has access to care and treatment. Cuts to public funding of health and social services have seen a decline in staff levels, infrastructure and medical supplies. Privatisation, which has commodified healthcare, has further weakened the health system.

We call on our governments in the sub-region to ensure that there are measures in place to utilise all available resources to fight this virus and that the private sector does not profit from this pandemic.

In this respect, we also say no to xenophobia & chauvinism. While drastic steps might be necessary, governments should not be allowed to project the problem into some “other”. This pandemic affects all people irrespective of class, race, nationality and citizenship. We live in a globalised world and the respect for the dignity of all people must be the core of our response.

The PSI sub-regional office stands with health workers at this time. We call on our members to check the PSI website for global updates as well as actions taken by workers around the world. Finally, we encourage all members to follow the situational updates from the WHO.

A luta continua!