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Solidarity in the Face of Crisis

Coen Van Wyk

Posted on May 15, 2020 17:17

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The COVID crisis brings out the best and worst in us. Some countries use armies and militarized police to enforce draconian measures aiming at stamping out the disease, but some use persuasion and calls for solidarity. And the common people respond to the latter.

Kenyan activist and writer Nanjala Nyabola observed two concurrent stories: governments enforcing public health measures by armed force, and people drawing together in solidarity and mutual support. She points out that the first gets reported, the second not. Africa has learnt much from the past. Traditional medicines still heal, and communities, if taught about risks, can change their behavior.

Indeed, veterans of recurrent Ebola epidemics hold important lessons for the world. Firstly, do not politicize the process, do not alienate segments of the population or the disease will flourish. Above all, listen. Build trust. Show respect.

Media reports of enforcement of health measures abound. Nyabola reported that Kenyan police killed more people than the disease in the first week, and in South Africa, a court had to order that the rights of citizens cannot be compromised even during a state of disaster and that the Government had to take steps to rein in security services.

This after the Minister of Police ordered his men to stamp the authority of the state. The Social Development Minister reserves food donations to the Party and the state. In Uganda, police refused a woman in labor the right to take a motorcycle taxi to the hospital after the curfew. In Guinea, police opened fire, killing six protesters who demanded an end to a lockdown. 

South African Minister of Social Development. Photo by GovernmentZA. (CC by-ND 2.0)

And Nelson Mandela’s Minister of Finance, Trevor Manuel, berated the State for Apartheid-like excesses in abusing civilians, for breaking the social compact based on humanity and compassion, for behavior devoid of caring.

But Nyabola’s second message is not published: Tailors in informal settlements making masks from scrap fabric, farmers donating crops to hungry communities despite orders that they must apply for permits. NGO’s helping those who fall through the government support networks that favor party faithful.

Photo by Gift of the Givers Foundation.

Rebecca Solnit wrote that, in crises like these, the expectation is that people will revert to selfish indifference, justifying authoritarianism and heavy-handed enforcement. However, the opposite is true: people come forward to help each other; food banks, grassroots organizing, altruism comes to the fore.

Anarchists like Kropotkin coined the term 'mutual aid,' arguing that serving the need of the group rather than the individual was essential for the survival of society. Hong Kong protesters form grassroots structures to achieve a minimal COVID-19 infection rate by mobilizing an army of volunteers to install and maintain hand sanitizers and tracking outbreaks.

All societies contain selfish, divisive people. Our political and economic systems seem to favor these as leaders. But success lies in the hands of leaders who, instead of commanding, ask citizens: "The Government will do all it can to protect you. Now I'm asking you to do everything you can to protect us all. None of us can do this alone."

Coen Van Wyk

Posted on May 15, 2020 17:17

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Source: The Guardian

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