The COVID-19 pandemic has brought with it unprecedented circumstances globally that have necessitated action-based interventions and reflections on present policy stances across industries. The gradual easing of lockdown regulations within the Southern Africa region to ensure paced economic rejuvenation amidst the crisis, has created a conundrum of development. Governments have to balance the livelihood of citizens and economic functionality, a win for the private sector at the cost of the public.
The lockdown regulations implemented were not inclusive to communities of poor socioeconomic backgrounds nor to those who form part of the informal sector, migrants or small-scale farmers.
Since the start of the pandemic our primary concern has been towards women, informal and cross-border traders, small scale farmers, migrant workers and refugees, domestic workers, small businesses, and ex-mineworkers in the region. These are individuals who are typically primary economic providers for their families but are vulnerable to exposure to the virus and the economic shocks therewith. It has therefore been a critical task and goal for civil society organisations that work with these groups of individuals and entities to find amicable solutions to provide relief and financial assistance.
With the number of COVID-19 infections, deaths and lockdown measures implemented in the region, we recognise the need for consistent civil society interventions. Interventions that will be targeted at vulnerable and disenfranchised populations of our region. We stood in solidarity and made a call for action at the start of the pandemic, but we could not have anticipated the effects since then. However, many heeded the call and through engagements, bringing about many lessons about development, resulted in a point of reflection:
- We commend the continued resilience and adaptability of civil society organisations, communities and the SADC region thus far in their ability to grapple with theCOVID-19 reality and their attempts to adjust accordingly.
- In times of crisis we realise that young people hold the key towards our collective ability to build a cohesive future and that future investment needs to be targeted at youth initiatives. The vibrancy of the youth civil society population has played a major role in the adaptability to the virtual reality and in finding ways to continue being efficient and influential.
- COVID-19 amplified challenges to accessing funding for most civil organisations therefore limiting their functionality. It is therefore pivotal for organisations to shift from developing funding proposals to finding ways to generate own resources through social enterprise and to be sustainable.
- Cross-border traders, women in particular, have not been able to access inputs in other parts of the region due to the lockdown and this has impacted their ability to provide and sustain themselves and their families. To address this, a back-up social protection system in the SADC region will need to be put in place. A social insurance system that can provide basic income for all citizens should such a crisis occur again.
- As a result of the pandemic, the world has moved into a technological and virtual era. However, the Southern Africa region and its civil organisations continue to experience gaps in these advancements. These gaps have been in the form of technological astuteness, load shedding, access to fibre, or simple access to the necessary gadgets for the beneficiaries.
- Due to all the deterrences caused by the pandemic, there has been a policy lag. Governments have been using the crisis as an excuse to defer from implementing pending policies. The duty of the civil society is to find a balance between ensuring advocacy whilst holding governments accountable in times of crisis.
Our statement does not end here and the lessons learnt thus far will be translated to innovative interventions. We will remain engaged with civil society organisations and grassroots communities through our targeted initiatives, as we ensure the voices of the marginalised are included at the tables of policy decision making which affect their quality of life.
We firmly believe that in the same way the region has overcome past pandemics and injustices, we will overcome Coronavirus. The future of the region is in our hands.
From the Board and Executive Management of Southern Africa Trust