Post C-19: let’s not settle for normal

Posted on April 6, 2020


Covid-19 and the response of authorities in proclaimed democratic states around the world has clearly illustrated that while all citizens are notionally equal, some are more equal than most others — while a tiny minority are very much more equal than the rest.

While the media often concentrates on the fact that the likes of Britain’s Prince Charles or some other notable has succumbed to the virus, this does not mean that we are all, equally, “in the same boat”.

We are “in the same boat” only in that this particular virus can be transmitted from person to person in a world that has become a global village where the generally better off can travel freely to almost everywhere. This adds another dimension to the historic fact that earlier epidemics — from bubonic plague to smallpox — tended to follow trade routes in a world much less integrated than it is today.

And, throughout history, it has been the elderly and those with immune systems that could either not cope or were compromised who mostly succumbed to these diseases. The majority of those in these most vulnerable categories are the poor, often living in cramped and squalid conditions, malnourished and without adequate sanitation, let alone medical care.

These are conditions where contagion breeds, where tuberculosis, dysentery and other debilitating and all too often deadly diseases proliferate. But there is little official attention paid while these diseases are contained among the among the huddled masses in their shacks and makeshift shelters.

In a world of plenty, where the wastage of food and other resources occurs on a monumental scale, there can be no justification for these conditions. Yet, for too long, and by too many, they have been considered “normal”.

This is a normal we should never wish to maintain or return to. As a recent graffitto in London, UK, noted: “We can’t return to normal because the normal we had was precisely the problem.”

And nothing has changed because some of the super rich have thrown down a few more crumbs from their over stuffed tables. It should be noted that this apparent largesse was aimed not at democratic change, but at trying to ensure a return to the world as it was; to maintain “business as usual”.

Yet this business — a system based on competition and which places the accumulation of profit before the welfare of people — is, as the London graffitto correctly noted, precisely the problem. It is also, incidentally, in glaring contradiction to the South African Bill of Rights or even such policies as those listed in the government’s National Housing Code (NHC) of 2004.

In its Upgrading of Informal Settlements Programme the NHC promised to “upgrade the living conditions of millions of poor people”. This pledge to provide “secure tenure and access to basic services and housing” repeated the assurance made a decade earlier by then housing minister Joe Slovo.

Instead we have multiple squalid breeding grounds of contagion, rife with TB and awaiting the onslaught of Covid-19. But this is normal in a profit before people system.

And those who own, control and manipulate the system are also trapped within it. As such, it is useless appealing to the good nature or morality of those at the apex of national and global exploitation. Put bluntly: good bosses go bust.

In order to survive — let alone thrive — profits have to be maximised. It is a simple matter of cost/benefit analysis. In other words: the benefits (profit) must always outweigh the costs, material, human or environmental.

This is a “normal” to which we should never wish to return.