Researchers during lockdown (1)

Image courtesy of Ndipiwe Mkuzo

Ndipiwe Mkuzo is a Master’s Degree candidate and a research intern at the Human Sciences Research Council. As an anthropologist and a political scientist, he is currently working on cultural mobilization and empowerment in Khayelitsha, Delft and Langa, in the Cape Flats. He shares his reflections on the lockdown in South Africa from Cape Town.

The lockdown has had an adverse effect on all my 2020 projects. I do ethnographic research, which basically means going to the field, participant observation, doing interviews, etc., so being locked up in a sense really means halting my work indefinitely. This compromises project delivery timeframes and creates a lot of anxiety and uncertainty. My worry right now is funding for future work after the Covid-19 lockdown period has passed. Job security is a major topic for me too, my contract is due to end in June and I have lost a substantive amount of fieldwork time.

I currently work from home, which is tough, but doable. I am currently working on a book project on African nationalism and settle nationalism, focusing on the Pan Africanist ideas of Robert Sobukwe, the founding president of the Pan Africanist Congress. I have also joined the Human Sciences Researcher Council national Covid-19 team which is conducting a telephonic survey on the lockdown and people’s awareness.

I think the government is doing what it can under the present circumstances. There is certainly no blueprint for dealing with something like this, so I suppose like many governments around the world, it is a learn-as-you-go strategy. However, I do think that methods which have been used in Asia and Europe are not necessarily proving very successful in South Africa. I think the people’s livelihoods have been majorly affected by the lockdown: much could have been done to anticipate the implications of the lockdown for subsistence traders and farmers. The unemployed, who survive on recycling as well as taxi drivers and car guards, whose livelihoods fall outside of government’s relief strategies remain the most affected. 

I also think not so much has been done in educating people about this virus, except being told to wash our hands, this has led to rising unrest in the townships and surrounding informal settlements. The ban on sale of cigarettes and alcohol could have been eased in I think, largely through first, an awareness campaign around the need to prioritize food security in the home as a primary aim. Secondly, the pandemic has confirmed what researchers already know: that the South African society is extremely unequal, and that inequality is along the cleavages of race, gender, class and nationality.It currently costs a lot (between R700 – R1400) to test for covid-19 so those who have a chance to survive this are those who have the financial access for early detection and treatment. It’s also become clear now more than ever that we need an unemployment grant for all above the age of 18. 

If the future looks like this, we need to think deeply about how government can aid in the development of a “resilient citizen”, one whose immune system is not compromised; who has shelter and food security; access to quality health and education; and who lives in a safe community and emotionally intelligent.

Ndipiwe Mkuzo’s reading tips to better understand what Southern African societies are currently going through:

Leslie J. Bank, City of Broken Dreams. Myth-making, nationalism and the university in an African motor city, HRSC Press, 2019, 320 p.

Mari K. Webel, The Politics of Disease Control. Sleeping Sickness in Eastern Africa, 1890-1920, Ohio University Press, 2019, 520 p.