In South Africa, where I am from, December is usually a time to wind down, to travel home for days (despite the claims that it’s people don’t travel much, South Africa is a place of migrants). For others, less fortunate, it may be a solitary trip to the beach. Most locals call this feeling “Dezemba.”
This December, the government encouraged citizens to cancel Christmas parties, closed beaches in Kwazulu-Natal province and extended an emergency in the Eastern Cape province (a key exporter of labor to other parts of South Africa for at least 150 years) which has been the epicenter of the country’s second wave of COVID-19, to the Garden Route, a largely holiday district in the neighboring Western Cape province.
On 23 December, the health minister announced that South Africa was recording its highest ever single-day increase in Covid-19 cases, with more than 14,000 recorded within a 24 hours period. More than 400 deaths had been recorded within a period of 24 hours, only the third time since the pandemic started in March. Now the government was talking about a lockdown again. In my own family in Cape Town, within the last two weeks, two of my sisters tested positive for COVID-19. They went to isolate two suburbs over. Then a nephew got COVID-19. He lives with my 78 year old dad. My dad took a test and was negative. But the anxiety is palpable.
So much for Dezemba.
This is a far cry from earlier this year when South Africa’s government, led by President Cyril Ramaphosa and Health Minister Zweli Mkhize (an actual medical doctor) received plaudits from no less than the World Health Organization for its response to COVID-19. At that time, the country introduced a hard lockdown for a few months, told people to stay at home and encouraged testing.
By August 2020, however, the shine was taken off South Africa’s COVID-19 response, largely because of the violent response by police to routine violations of South Africans’ human rights (at one point, more people were killed by police than COVID-19) and by the failure of the government to provide a safety net (food parcels, augmenting people’s wages) or strangling aid in red tape.
Elsewhere in the continent, other governments didn’t do well by their citizens either when it came to the police response (Kenya, Nigeria and Rwanda) or in their denial of the severity of the crisis (Tanzania and Egypt come to mind) or peddling snake oil remedies (Madagascar). We’ve written (we organized it all as a series) about the continental response to COVID-19, including the West’s propensity to wish the worst scenarios on Africans. We also suggested that Africans take their cue from their own experiences of living and coping with pandemics or look east: Vietnam, the state of Kerala in India or South Korea.
In the end, like elsewhere on the globe, it’s been the resilience of public health care workers and citizens’ own responsibility that’s kept themselves safe.
As contributor Camilla Houeland wrote earlier, our greatest tribute to these workers would be to make sure these workers have decent work conditions, are paid, are protected and have a strong, public health care system—not just applause.
Still, this was a big year for Africa Is a Country. We launched a talk show (presented by Sean Jacobs and Will Shoki; produced by Antoinette Engel), relaunched our radio show, appointed a staff writer (the same Will), upped our Instagram game (thanks Antoinette Engel again), launched two funded series (on Capitalism in Nairobi, Kenya and on Climate Politricks), and most of all, selected ten young writers to be Africa Is a Country Fellows, whose work we will start publishing in the new year.
We plan to be back on January 11, 2021.
During the break, catch up on the archives and check in at our Facebook and Twitter accounts where we will occasionally post links. Otherwise, stay safe, wear a mask, social distance and when the vaccine becomes available where you are, get vaccinated.