Quarantine Will End, But, What About Privilege?

Quarantine Will End, But, What About Privilege?

Ntombizikhona Valela explores what going ‘back to normal’ really means for those without privilege.

None of us could have anticipated that our lives could be impacted the way that has. But, if you’re reading this article you will probably have to concede that you are one of the lucky ones.

You have access to the internet. You live in a house or apartment that allows you to socially isolate as best as you can. You are probably one of those who have been made aware of how very lucky you are very early in the year when the issue of privilege was brought up- that social distancing for a lot of people in India or South Africa, where I am from, do not have the resources or houses large enough to be able to stay safe in these strange times.

Perhaps this is also the time to admit how very exhausted we are with being cooped up in our homes with no real sense that this period will pass. We are probably all longing to get back to our lives. And, the way capitalism is set up, that is bound to happen one way or the other.

But, our readiness as a world to get back to our lives boils down to privilege.

Taking a look at South Africa, our country has been applauded for its swift action to flatten the curve. But this pandemic has brought gross inequality to the fore in ways that make it impossible to look away. Of course, this has been said.

South Africa is known as the most unequal society on earth. We are literally two different countries within the same set of borders. Time Magazine’s cover of an aerial view of South Africa provides a sobering picture of how very different people live just in Johannesburg.

The beautiful city of Cape Town, which is named as one of the must-visit destinations in the world is often celebrated as such because no one really dares to look closely at the many overpopulated informal settlements where people live one on top of the other, in conditions that municipalities have no real interest in addressing. And it is these same spaces like Alexandria in Johannesburg that are fast becoming COVID-19 epicentres.

The Guardian reported a similar trend in Rio’s densely populated favelas. Throughout this period we have been confronted with how vulnerable a lot of people are to this virus. Add to this the sudden job insecurity and the looming loss of income for so many more people regardless of economic status.

These are the conversations that have occupied some of our news networks and online publications.

After 60 days of a strict lockdown South Africa has begun its process of opening up. Those who weren’t classified as essential workers are slowly getting back to their offices. The process of getting the school year started again has started as of June 1st. But this virus is still here. The same concerns exist for us.

The phrase new normal has been on the tips of our tongues ever since this virus began to affect the entire world, but what exactly does that phrase mean when there are so many people who remain without access to proper care – when our health infrastructure is under immense pressure?

South Africa has seen a few cases of arson where schools have burned to the ground. Some PPE equipment at a school in some Gauteng public schools was reportedly stolen, setting any preparations for the return of students back. So, it is understandable as to why parents are so concerned for their children right now.

Now, this isn’t to take away from the efforts the South African government has put in to keep South Africans and any other person within South African borders at the moment safe. But the crisis we’ve always had on our hands- that is the growing inequality in our country for the last 25 years- has been made more apparent in the past 2 months when COVID-19 cases escalated.

Then there is the issue of disproportionate policing and over securitization of some residences compared to others. South Africa is reeling from the death of Collins Khosa, a man beaten to death in his home by South African National Defence Force soldiers who were deployed across the country to patrol our communities. Sibusiso Amos, Petrus Miggels and Adane Emmanuel are three others we know of who were murdered by patrolling members of the South African Police Service. But these patrols aren’t everywhere.

Black people in South Africa’s townships face heavier consequences for merely existing during this period than anyone else living in more affluent suburbs. The issues Black People in America are facing in the wake of George Floyd’s death and the recent discrimination against Africans in Goughanzou, China, the undervaluing of their lives, is something we’ve seen taking place in South Africa with the ways poor black people have been under hyper surveillance.  It seems even in these unprecedented times, the status quo of racism and discrimination against Black people and People of Colour remains unchanged.

I for one am nervous about our future. I am nervous about returning to a world where cases are still on the rise. As much as the South African government has reassured citizens that they have an allocated budget to deal with what is going on around us, I remain anxious like many others. I am anxious for people returning to work with no real sense that our health care system will actually withstand the inevitable rise in cases.

After all there is no vaccine and as we saw in places like Hong Kong that beat this virus only for cases to resurge, there really is no amount of reassurance one can give.

At this point it seems the only people fit enough to survive a return are those with the resources and health insurance to risk returning to somewhat regular life. As much as we are all fed up with feeling contained, we also need to be very careful of the survival of the strongest discourse that’s also aggravating this chat as it is, quite simply, rooted in privilege.

Certain people’s need for hair cuts or an evening at their favourite restaurant or a return to church is fuelled by the idea that if you get it, you at least have the resources to get the care you need. This is not true for others.

At the core of recognising your privilege is empathy. And this pandemic has exposed how very few of us especially our leaders actually care.

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