Human Rights & COVID-19: “The good, the bad and the way forward.”

On June 27th 2020, the Africa Unite Human rights teams based in Cape Town and Durban organised Africa Unites first-ever joint information session via the video calling application Google Meet for Africa Unite Peer educators, to discuss the effects of Human rights & COVID-19.

The objectives of the session were among others to: discuss Human Rights abuses during the lockdown, Resource deployment and intervention by the State and NGO’s, Why Human Rights education is important, What Africa Unite has done, interventions and education campaigns, Time to imagine the “new normal”, What we can do in our capacity to curb the spread and continue to raise HR awareness.

The meeting started at noon and was moderated by Mr Lyle Breda, a project coordinator for Africa Unite.

Lyle Breda, began proceedings by encouraging introductions, and provided global political, economic, and social context to the COVID-19 pandemic. He then introduced the first speaker, Melusi Mahlaba, a team leader for Africa Unite Durban.

Mr Melusi Mahlaba, discussed the fundamental principles of Human rights that include their universality and inalienability. He spoke to the importance of education of human rights to all people for injustices to be noted and acted upon. The exercise of an individual’s rights shall be responsible by not violating others’ rights. He highlighted the significance of shared responsibility by referring to the video of George Floyd which violated his and his family’s right to privacy. We must know our rights and exercise them accordingly. Lastly, he noted that skills sharing is in demand.

Mazeeda Karani, a peer educator at Africa Unite and Lyle, discussed the inequality in the governance system that has been highlighted during the pandemic. They agreed there are gaps in who the government is serving. Mazeeda also pointed out that statistically, only 35% of all South Africans between 18 – 24 years old approved of lockdown regulations, pointing out a growing apathy towards governance structures and a general mistrust for authority. Lyle posed the question as to why the government was acting on certain issues (providing shelter for homeless people, creating field hospitals, and rationing food parcels) now, if they could do so pre-COVID-19.

Thierry Nimale, an Africa Unite Peer educator, pointed out that social relief measures were not made available to migrants, and that the community is continually being ignored by the State, this was supported by Dalali Venge, an Africa Unite exchange fellow from Tanzania, which prompted Africa Unite to start a skill-sharing program for migrants living in temporary shelters and on the streets of Cape Town.

The interventions by Africa Unite during COVID-19 were discussed. Through interventions, Human rights education is transferred to the communities and Africa Unite aims to reach more communities every year. Some of these interventions are: The disbursement of educational materials through infographics via multiple platforms and skills development. As mentioned above, AU assisted Dalali Venge in the training of migrant women to make hand-made face masks for their communities. Melusi explained that unemployment is currently the largest issue that affects human rights amongst the youth in South Africa. He strongly believes that the skill-sharing sessions should continue post-pandemic as the engagement between foreign nationals and locals stimulates business and social cohesion. 

Round table

Lyle encouraged the discussion by illustrating examples of interventions implemented by the government. Homeless people were removed from the streets and relocated to shelters arranged by the government. Their intentions can be questioned as they demonstrated their capability to intervene. Could the government have taken action before the pandemic, and if so, why do they implement them now? Lyle perceives it as an opportunity to remove the homeless from the city and leave them there. He asked the participants their opinions on the interventions in their area.
Keagen Gertse commented on the South African debt crisis, current societal congruence to the Apartheid era, and the elite political minority who disproportionately benefit from bad policies. He asked what South Africa was doing as a society to move forward? He claimed not enough was being done, and in fact, the Constitution is not a valid document anymore. He suggested the way to change is from the bottom up and promoting inclusive legislation. “Fundamental issues in society all start with systemized suppression. A fundamental solution is that we need to start address inequalities stated in the constitution.”

Wonke Mapeyi brought up many points. He spoke about the individual’s responsibility to make the change and that true power starts in the community (i.e. street committees). As an organization a lot can be achieved through programs, however, it is the communities that need to take it to the next level. He also discussed the importance of having a linkage between the communities, the government and legislation. Lastly, he spoke about the need to create development and opportunities for the people. Lastly, he pointed out that as civil society and individuals we should not be reactive to negative social issues like Gender-Based violence, which he stated was like fighting another pandemic, but rather we should be proactive in fighting societal scourges to reshape the current social fabric.

Interns, Brooke Stellman and Sammy Feller, added comments about human rights in the US and Netherlands. Brooke and Sam echoed the same sentiments about unemployment benefits that their respective governments have provisioned. Brooke noted that Black people have also been disproportionately affected in terms of healthcare amid the coronavirus pandemic. Sam noted that nurses were already demonstrating for their salary’s months before the pandemic which the government disregarded. It took a global pandemic to finally receive compensation for their hard work.

Way Forward

As the session pulled to a close, Lyle asked the participants to dare to imagine a “new normal” and whether this will be a positive or a negative.

Wonke Mapeyi, says the new normal is a positive, that changes can be done now and young people can enact the agenda they want. The youth needs to be more proactive in public policy to facilitate policy change.

Mazeeda Karani voiced her recommendation of teaching transferable skills. Community interventions need a broader outlook about future consequences. This sentiment was supported by all present.

Keagen Gertse agrees skills need to be developed using existing structures that will help communities in the long run. Basics of skills is necessary to construct a society. He also discussed the need for more interventions from the private sector as they have more resources to their disposal. A framework can be created in which private institutions provide a certain number of skillsets stimulating mass skill development. We need to build a central ground for the private sector to the communities.    

The session then came to a close, Lyle thanked all of the speakers and participants, a word of thanks was also given by the speakers. The overall tone of the session remained optimistic and fruitful until the end. All participants were resolute that, skills sharing with a hint of Human Rights relief will be a major step in the right direction.

For more information, please contact,

Nthati Lesaoana, Human Rights Manager.

Nthati@africaunite.org.za

+2776 460 4331

Lyle Breda, Project coordinator

lyle@africaunite.org.za

+2761 268 0202

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