On May 14th, 2020, the Africa Unite Human rights team based in Cape Town organised Africa Unites first-ever virtual information session via the video calling application Zoom for Africa Unite Peer educators, to discuss the impact of COVID-19 on the economy and on the informal economy, in particular, the title of the session was “Covid-19 & the economy: How the ripples affect us all”.
The objectives of the session were among others to: Discuss the implications of lockdown strategies on the formal and informal sectors, Seeing the informal sector as an important part of the South African economy, the social education taking place during the pandemic in regards to the virus itself, the measures taken and the reaction from the public and how we as Africa Unite staff and peer educators can attempt to play our parts to educate the public and become part of the public discourse and action.
The meeting started at 14h05 PM and was chaired by Mr. Lyle Breda, a project coordinator for Africa Unite.
Lyle Breda began proceedings with a presentation to provide context for the discussion, he showed the statistics of how COVID 19 has affected the world’s economy. Noting that It has also shown us the flaws in our systems, regarding the economy as an ecosystem and that both formal and informal economies are pieces of the same puzzle. He emphasized that a large misconception was to think that we could come out of this pandemic unscathed without ensuring the protection of the informal sector. This may mean a rebirth of Innovation, collaboration, and unity among community members. He finished the presentation stating the contraction of the economy means people are going to lose jobs but not all is bleak and called for people to support one another.
Wonke Mapeyi, a social activist and AU Peer Educator, brought many important points forward such as the increase in xenophobic sentiments towards migrants firstly because of the origin of the virus and secondly the scarcity as a result of economic depression. Mr. Mapeyi also mentioned that many informal traders are either resorting to crime, illegally trading, or not trading at all because permits were not approved and or dispensed to them. There was a positive note, people have started to innovate and create new ways to generate income which has stimulated the local spheres of influence in townships. Mr. Mapeyi is adamant that a wave of social education needs to take place and that civil society needs to increase pressure to educate the public and government officials at various levels on the virus, lockdown levels, and social relief processes.
Tasreeq Ferriera, a law student from the University of the Western Cape, advised on how society has been reluctant to embrace technology at the beginning of this pandemic but now we seem to survive with it using digital platforms to do work and attend school. This can be an opportunity for new entrepreneurs which will call for governments and NGOs to empower people with necessary skills, he has stated however, that this will also see retrenchments as larger companies start digitizing more and more.
Mazeeda Karani, a post-graduate student from the University of Cape Town, asked how people can transition back to stable livelihoods and how peer educators can help in the situation.
Muchulene Peplouw, a social activist and student, expressed her concern for her community of Mannenberg and other communities like hers where people have a total disregard for regulations, the notion is being carried that people in the Flats are more likely to die from gang violence than the virus, she also mentioned that Civil service posts have been closed such as the Police station and local day clinic both citing positive COVID-19 cases.
José Muianga a human rights lawyer from Mozambique specializing in migration issues, conveyed his concern but also interest in the difference in preparation strategies between South Africa and Mozambique stating that the South African market and the economy is more prepared and adjusted to digitizing and supports a more diverse marketplace, however, he also expressed that South Africa also has a higher level of crime which is a major concern. He noted that Mozambique ha failed to do a mass education to prepare its citizens for a pandemic and that the informal sector in Mozambique has largely been devastated by this pandemic and only time will tell where we will find ourselves.
Participants agreed on the following key actions and urgent tasks moving forward:
• Door to door education through pamphlets to create more awareness concerning the pandemic and spread.
• Seek partnerships with the Small Business Council chairperson and related ministries.
• Form a partnership with local radios and news agencies in spreading awareness
• Form task team of peer educators to influence the majority of youth and remaining inactive peer educators
• Organizing an online campaign and establish narrative through social media on the impacts of COVID-19, government responses, and how to adjust in a post-COVID-19 world.
We believe that we will face hardships in the months to come but we can and will overcome this if we stand together (proverbially) the opportunity to remould social orders is at hand.