FORT MYERS, Florida — The COVID-19 pandemic has brought South Africa to the brink of a serious social and economic crisis. In a country where about 18% of the population already lives under the poverty line, the extent to which COVID-19 has exacerbated the poverty crisis is still unfolding. The pandemic prompted a national lockdown in April 2020 to control the spread. This had a detrimental effect on the South African economy, which was already in recession. Now, it is not just the COVID-19 pandemic rocking the country; a rising poverty epidemic also brings new challenges to overcome.
In April of 2020, the International Labour Organization predicted global job losses of about 305 million and an estimated 1.6 billion jobs at risk for the “most vulnerable in the labour market.”
According to Simone Schotte of the Chronic Poverty Advisory network, the shock of the pandemic will not be temporary. The lasting effects of the pandemic significantly weigh on the role of job acquisition in the South African economy, which Schotte argues is a main factor in upward mobility for struggling to escape poverty. Schotte continues, “The pandemic may not only have short-term income effects but also hamper people’s income-generating activities in the longer term, as households will turn to liquidating their small savings and selling off productive assets to cope during the lockdown period.”
There are three main ways that the pandemic can and will impact urban household food security. The first is the food supply chain which appears to be relatively stable at this time. Next is a decrease in food purchasing power and jobs. Essentially, the working class is the most affected by the lockdown. Last is food quality. In this case, there will most likely be an emphasis on non-perishable and processed foods with a long shelf life due to mobility restrictions. Food insecurity and nutritional inadequacy are tandemic factors on the rise, challenging the safety the South African diet, especially for vulnerable immigrant populations.
The shutdown of schools may have increased the number of meals parents at home would have had to make, when otherwise they would have relied on food programs. Meanwhile, many African immigrant women are domestic workers and may have received one or more meals each day at their clients’ homes. Now, these food sources aren’t accessible because of the health and economic crisis. Furthermore, securing employment, which was already an uphill battle for African immigrants before COVID-19, has become even more difficult.
Social Justice and Representation Politics
During the pandemic, impoverished urban African immigrants have become more vulnerable to xenophobic attacks and illegal arrests. Past studies show that immigrants contribute significantly to the nation’s economy despite only making up less than a tenth of the population. These studies show immigrants increasing income per capita and positively impacting public finances through their societal contributions in the South African economy.
In the time of the COVID-19 pandemic, there comes another crisis of representation in South Africa, likely not seen since the days of the Black Conciousness Movement of the 1970s. In this post-apartheid era, the interests of the upper and middle classes are largely represented within the political system. Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of impoverished South Africans and African immigrants lack representation and are largely excluded. The lack of a strong political voice increased opposition to the state among unrepresented groups during the ongoing economic recession, and the pandemic only aggravated it further.
As income, employment rates, and equity wane under the force of a recession and the pandemic, the role of the state has become more preeminent. Social and business leaders, along with research studies, point to the importance of the South African government aggresively continuing to address barriers to economic improvement for all, regardless of financial status or country of origin.
– Marcella Teresi