There are just over a thousand cases and the dead are counted on the tip of a hand, but in South Africa Covid-19 is equally scary. “The virus – explains to Agenzia Fides Pablo Velasquez, a Scalabrinian missionary in Johannesburg – is worrying. However, what is frightening is the spread of the epidemic, but also the possible social reaction to quarantine”.
The decrees of President Cyril Ramaphosa impose the closure of economic activities and the obligation to stay indoors. For the middle class and the wealthier class, this is not a problem. “The wealthy sections of the population – continues Father Pablo – have economic resources and employment guarantees that protect them and help them comply with the directives. This is not the case for the poorest sections of the population”.
Slum-dwellers in large South African cities live thanks to informal economy: small businesses, household services, etc. They have no protection. “For them – continues Father Pablo – not working means not earning anything and therefore do not have resources to buy food for the family”.
Closing slums can worsen the infection. Living conditions are very harsh. Families of five, six people often live in a small room, one next to the other. The spread of the virus thus becomes easier.
The condition of immigrants who represent 7.5% of the population is particularly dramatic. “In this lockdown phase – observes Father Filippo Ferraro, Scalabrinian missionary in Cape Town – migrants have difficulty renewing residence permits. They cannot work and therefore have no money to eat”.
Thus, while the police patrol the residential neighborhoods, soldiers in warfare have been sent around the large slums. “Closing a township – explains Father Filippo – is like closing a boiling boiler: if you don’t let it vent, it risks exploding”.
In this context, the healthcare system does not seem ready to face a large-scale epidemic. “The local system – Father Filippo concludes – is similar to the American one, where the best care is guaranteed only to those who can afford it economically. So most of the poor population is forced to turn to the few public structures. The risk is that there are not enough structures to contain the spread of the virus”.