Human Rights Diagnosis: Community Advice Offices and Covid-19, Full Report

Covid-19 has exacerbated the pre-existing socio-economic fault lines in South Africa. Increasingly, poor access to services and utilities has been reported by a significant proportion of community-based advice offices (CAOs) across the country, with by far the largest number of CAOs citing ‘food’ the most difficult to access. CAOs have also consistently raised the issue of unemployment, which has contributed to hampered access to the right to food, housing and education (especially for those families unable to pay for data). Access to water, electricity and healthcare has also worsened for their communities according to a significant fraction of CAOs.

Despite the reduced access to food, water and healthcare, large proportions of CAOs have also reported no or limited access to emergency assistance from the government in terms of food support, basic services and direct financial support in their communities. These findings are particularly worrying as they indicate that the economic and social packages designed by government to ease the impact of the lockdown may have remained largely inaccessible to those communities who need them most.

CAOs have also consistently emphasised several challenges that have affected communities’ ability to access services and emergency assistance. Respondents identified a number of obstacles to the delivery of food parcels, including ‘favouritism’ (political parties distributing parcels to their supporters and affiliates exclusively), operational problems within the South African Social Security Agency (SASSA), confusion about how to apply for and collect the parcels, and community members being asked to pay for food parcels.

A large fraction of CAOs have pinpointed the practical and logistical consequences of the lockdown that have severely impeded their access to socio-economic rights. These include lack of transport due to the lockdown; closed government offices and consequent administrative issues (e.g. inability to obtain birth certificates for child grants); and the lack of permits to move around.

While the threat posed by Covid-19 to South Africa’s relatively immuno-compromised and poverty-stricken population is severe, the lockdown has had its own severe consequences on these groups. The actions taken to avoid mass Covid-19 transmission have led to human rights violations and the exacerbation of existing inequalities.

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