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Police Minister Bheki Cele addresses members of the South African Police Service after government declared a 21-day Covid-19 lockdown. (PHOTO: Gallo Images)
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We all want to survive the pandemic, but the unlimited natural
freedoms to which everyone has a right could put all of us, especially the old
and poor, at risk, writes Sivuyile Mangxamba.
are more than halfway through the 21-day lockdown in South Africa. The
nationwide lockdown is now our reality.
We all miss our freedoms as
enshrined in the Constitution. The restrictions are an inconvenience for all of
us. Yes, we are all not enjoying life. However, we have no other methods to
deal with the virus and the speed at which it spreads. The army is patrolling
our streets and some are criticising its heavy-handed methods for maintaining
The feared virus is spreading
infection and more people are contracting it.
Some critical voices – poets and
little-known human rights groups – oppose the president's decision to implement
a lockdown in the interest of the Republic. These voices argue that the
president has not acted in the best interests of the poor in informal
settlements. Many are opposed to the idea of regulating how many people may
gather at a funeral, or at a hospital where a father cannot visit his newborn
There is even a view that the
lockdown is anti-poor and anti-working class or even anti-hawkers and everyone
who earns a living in the informal economy.
have intimated that the army is not trained for this work. It is possible though
that the best armies in the world or even the finest military strategies are
not equipped to deal with this kind of "attack" by an invisible
virus. The fact of the matter is that the army remains the best option we have
to enforce a lockdown and protect the weak and vulnerable. It was clear from
the very first day that no government in the world was prepared.
Let us bring in here the ideas of
English philosopher Thomas Hobbes, who wrote about the social contract. The
surrender of individual rights to a higher force for the good of everyone. Only
law enforcement agencies supported by the army can ensure "social
order" – the lockdown.
is an ineluctable fact that the transmission happens through human contact, and
even the World Health Organisation (WHO) advocates that the only way to have a
fighting chance against this pandemic is to break the chains of human contact. That
seems to derail the seemingly unstoppable march of the invading virus.
Therefore, while we regularly
wash our hands, avoid touching itchy eyes, stop the habit of putting hands in
our mouths and no longer shake hands, these may not be sufficient because human
beings inherently want to engage with fellow humans outside just household
members. That is where Hobbes' social contract comes in.
We are not self-isolating nor
keeping social distance or even policing each other. "Isohlule lento"
(This thing has defeated us).
As Hobbes argues, we all
surrender some of our freedoms and submit to the authority in exchange for
protection of our remaining rights or the maintenance of the social order. Some
of the infected have proven that they refuse to self-isolate and comply with
the best public health methods of dealing with the pandemic. Infected tourists
and locals have gone into hiding. Therefore, we cannot be trusted with
our freedom of movement
In this state of nature, to use
Hobbes' words, human life would be "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and
short". The government has brought the army in. This is what Hobbes calls
the political order. We all want to survive the pandemic, but the unlimited
natural freedoms to which everyone has a right could put all of us, especially
the old and poor, at risk.
do not have National Health Insurance (NHI) nor health institutional capacity
to deal with the pandemic. Our government has admitted this and public health
systems in the first world could not cope with the ferocity of the novel
In the absence of adherence to
the regulations, the regular army comes in to enforce the social contract as
per the gazetted regulations. We have surrendered our freedom of movement to
avoid or rather minimise the destruction and mess that Covid19 could have on
our cities, villages, townships, and on our humanity. The president has asked
the army to come on our behalf to avoid an endless "war of all against
all" in the scramble for access to public and private healthcare.
Let us stay at home and be safe.
The essential services must continue. People must have access to food, farmers
and farmworkers must harvest, we must maintain the food supply chain and we
must support healthcare workers by observing the lockdown.
Let us not be foolish here. Our
lives and humanity is at stake.
Moreover, if we work together,
normal life – football, pubs, weddings, "imigidi" (celebrations),
fish and chips, will return. The good times will roll again.
- Sivuyile Mangxamba is a former journalist
and communications manager in the public service.
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