Covid-19 exposes inequalities between blacks and whites, experts say

10 May 2020 - 10:16 By Mpho Koka
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Residents of Eldorado Park, Johannesburg, during the lockdown.
Residents of Eldorado Park, Johannesburg, during the lockdown.

The Covid-19 pandemic and the subsequent lockdown has exposed inequalities between black and white South Africans, say experts.

They spoke of how the pandemic revealed socio-economic inequalities.

“The experience of lockdown is starkly different for most white people who are locked down in comfortable spaces, with full fridges, Wi-Fi and space; while the majority of black South Africans, many of whom are unemployed, live in crowded spaces, and have no food or running water,” said Teresa Oakley-Smith, founder and MD of Diversi-T, an organisation specialising in transformation and diversity.

Oakley-Smith says her commentary comes from what she sees on TV and social media, rather than her normal discussions with people.

“Two images, from social media, paint this picture [lockdown experience]. On the one side, a queue 3km long of desperate black South Africans queuing for food parcels outside Centurion, on the other side an image of mainly white South Africans jogging and walking along the Sea Point esplanade with scant regard for social distancing,” she told TimesLIVE.

Oakley-Smith added that “the experience of being locked down is a very different one for most whites and most blacks”.

Oakley-Smith also spoke about the different concerns of white and black South Africans during the lockdown.

“The concerns of white and black South Africans also appear to be very different. Among whites (mainly, though, not only) there is a concern about the sale of tobacco and hours set aside for exercising. The article by Gareth Cliff highlights this.

“The concern of many black South Africans (again, not all) is the basic need for food due to the escalation of unemployment,” she said.

Author, columnist and political commentator, Malaika wa Azania, said the coronavirus pandemic exposed how “historical injustices” of the past define postapartheid SA today.

“Covid-19 has exposed the extent to which the spatial inequalities and historical injustice defines the postapartheid reality in SA,” she told TimesLIVE.

Malaika said social distancing is difficult for black people to practise.

“ How does someone social distance when they live in an informal settlement with hundreds or thousands of other people, and sharing basic amenities such as toilets?

“How does one social distance in a household with many people all sharing the same small space?

“Black people in the main are on the receiving end of spatial inequalities and so, Covid-19 has exposed this,” she said.

She added: “We also saw how just before lockdown, certain people went on a panic-buying spree. They could afford that, because they have the means to do so. The poor, largely black, were unable to buy even the most basic of necessities because they didn’t have the means to.”

Dr Lwazi Lushaba, a lecturer at the University of Cape Town’s (UCT) political studies department, said the global pandemic exposed how SA’s health-care system is divided along racial lines and advanced skill in the medical field remains white.

“Sixty percent of doctors in this country work in the private sector. And probably of that 60% that works in the private sector, 95% is white. Of the tests that have been conducted almost 80% of them have been conducted in private laboratories; and we know that in this country that once you talk private you are talking white people, especially where highly specialised skills are needed.

“We have a health system that is divided along racial lines in South Africa. We have private hospitals that cater for white people and that’s where mostly white specialists work, that’s where many doctors work.

“We have public hospitals that cater for black people and this is where 40% of doctors work and out of that 40%, only 5% are specialists, who mostly are black.

“Highly skilled, technical specialists in the medical field are mostly white and they work for private hospitals whose primarily clientele is white people and a few black people who have medical aid and can afford to go to those private hospitals.

“Only a few black specialists work for public hospitals that cater for mostly black people,” he said.

Lushaba added that the lack of black specialist doctors — and having only 40% of doctors in public hospitals — was a reason government lacked the capability to conduct more tests in the public sector.

“What Covid-19 has showed us is that the 25 years of independence in South Africa has not made any difference in democratising knowledge and knowledge production in South Africa,” said Lushaba.

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