For almost a quarter of a century, the Foundation for Human Rights (FHR) has supported the work of community-based advice offices (CAOs) in vulnerable and marginalised communities. CAOs work directly with, are staffed by, and are generally located in, their local communities. This gives these organisations a unique and unfiltered perspective on the realities of life in the communities they serve. The FHR has completed an online survey of 127 CAOs throughout South Africa. The findings provide some insight into life under Covid-19 restrictions for millions of people living in South Africa, as experienced by CAO members living in their local communities. This summary report will highlight some of the key findings and recommendations of
the study. A more detailed report will also be made available.
The World Health Organization (WHO) declared Covid-19 a global pandemic on 11 March 2020. Following the rapid spread and serious nature of the virus, South Africa and many other countries adopted stringent measures to mitigate the pandemic. On 15 March, President Ramaphosa declared a national State of Disaster in terms of the Disaster Management Act. The initial restrictions included social distancing and a ban on public gatherings of over 100 people, and on 26 March culminated in the nationwide ‘lockdown’ imposing more severe restrictions on fundamental rights and freedoms. These have included limits on what could be bought or sold, strict limitations on travel and also limited freedom of speech on Covid-19-related topics. The South African Police Service (SAPS) and the South African Defence Force (SANDF) have been deployed to enforce the lockdown regulations.
The lockdown was necessary, and has been successful in ‘flattening the curve’ of Covid-19 transmission, thereby likely saving many lives. However, the imposed restrictions have had many negative repercussions. Despite a gradual reduction in restrictions over the past months, there are reports of human rights violations, including abuses by security forces, forced evictions and increasing gender-based violence (GBV). CAO responses show that hardship and rights violations following these restrictions often occurred in already vulnerable and marginalised communities. The responses from CAOs have highlighted numerous areas of concern, including a lack of leadership from local government officials, corruption, the inability to access personal protective equipment (PPE) and significant problems accessing grants and unemployment assistance. These are all serious issues, but CAOs have also raised the problem of hunger, particularly among children.
Continue reading below or download the full “Human Rights Diagnosis: Community Advice Offices and Covid-19, Summary Report” resource.