The problem with the Western Cape’s management of Covid-19 is ideological
The Covid-19 infections and mortality figures in the Western Cape are disproportionately higher than those of the rest of the country, which as at June 4, 2020, had a total of 40,792 infections. Gauteng, which tested a higher number of people, had 4,845 infections and 33 deaths, as opposed to the Western Cape’s 27,006 infections and 651 deaths (as of last week).
The Western Cape is amongst the best resourced. The fact that this province’s statistics constituted 66 percent of the national statistics speaks to the reality that it has deviated from the management approach of the rest of the country; following an ideological disposition similar to that of Western countries instead.
The pandemic highlighted glaring differences in responses by countries with a socialist orientation as opposed to countries with a capitalist orientation. While one response placed life first, the other placed the economy first. While one approach was outward-looking, the other was inward-looking. While one approach focused on peaceful collaboration, another looked at opportunities for self-advancement.
Life first vs economy first
Generally, countries with a socialist approach to development focused on the human impact of the pandemic. They, in a participatory manner, mobilised a vast array of domestic forces, moved swiftly to create awareness, contain social contact, and prioritised increased access to health care, personal protective equipment and food security. Those countries where healthcare is free, fared better.
Capitalist countries generally considered saving their economies first. Accordingly, they took a while to implement lockdowns, with many not even doing so, following a herd immunity mentality, which argues that people should be allowed to be infected and even die so that the population as a whole can begin to develop immunity. Consequently, the death rates were significantly higher.
China, the country where the pandemic is said to have originated, though it had 83,027 infections and 4,634 deaths as at June 4, mainly due to its enormous population size and the time that it took to understand exactly what the challenge was, was able to stabilise the country within three months.
Vietnam, a country of nearly one hundred million people, because of its socialist character has just over three hundred infections, with no recorded deaths, despite its proximity to China. Countries like Venezuela and Cuba have 2,087 infections and 20 deaths, and 2,119 infections and 83 deaths respectively, whereas Brazil is now tragically sitting at 618,554 infections and 34,072 deaths. The USA is leading with 1,924,581 infections and 110,218 – the highest figures in the world by far.
An analysis of the deaths in capitalist orientated countries reveal that, beyond the impact of the pandemic on senior citizens, it is the working class and the poor that are the most affected. In the United Kingdom, for example, black males are 4.2 times more likely to die from a Covid-19 related death and black females are 4.3 times more likely to die than white males and females, respectively. This ethnic differentiation in mortality is due to differences in socio-economic circumstances.
Likewise, the pandemic is revealing the huge inequality gap in the USA, with black Americans from poorer areas having a disproportionately high mortality rate compared to the rate of infections. The USA’s huge racially skewed economic and developmental disparities are also being revealed in these current exposés of police brutality.
Outward vs inward
Socialist orientated countries, in addition to stabilising the pandemic domestically, did not hesitate to share their knowledge, skills and resources and advocated for and supported the strengthening of global coordination and collaboration including through multilateral institutions.
Cuban health care professionals traversed the world, including South Africa, to provide support. As at March 31, the Chinese government had given medical advice and material assistance to 120 countries and four international organisations. The support given, across the ideological and wealth divide, was unconditional.
Most capitalist orientated countries, however, responded selfishly. When the reality of the pandemic hit them, they primarily became inward-looking and hoarded resources. The USA even high-jacked personal protective equipment meant for Germany and France. Aid given by countries like the USA and Turkey, were conditional (e.g. the token donation by Turkey to South Africa of a mere 100,000 surgical masks, 100 N95 masks, 500 protective overalls, 500 face shields, 500 medical safety goggles, 200 litres of hand sanitiser and one disinfectant tunnel, insufficient even for one hospital, was just a cover to enable it to leave the country with six plane loads of military equipment).
Collaboration vs self-advancement
Approaches between socialist and capitalist orientated countries also differed in that socialist orientated countries focused on peaceful collaboration, whilst capitalist orientated countries tended towards self-advancement. This is best demonstrated by the China-USA dichotomy, which was initially expressed through the trade war; escalated by a Covid-19 blame game, with large scale disinformation by the USA against China mainly associated with 5G, biochemical warfare and non-disclosure; and then the encouragement of Covid-19 lawsuits (including by South Africa’s Democratic Alliance).
At the level of multilateral organisations, developing countries, and particularly those with a socialist orientation constructively engaged and collaborated with structures such as the World Health Organisation. Unsurprisingly though, Donald Trump on April 15 announced that the USA will halt its funding to the WHO pending an outcome of a review of its conduct. The USA is also currently threatening the International Criminal Court.
The most revolting aspect of the responses of some capitalist orientated countries, however, was the opportunism displayed by exploiting the vulnerability, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, of those countries that they disagreed with.
Sanctions still have a devastating impact on the economies of the affected countries such as the DPRK, Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba and Zimbabwe and significantly impedes their ability to support their people during these trying times. The people of Iran, for example, are experiencing inhumane punishment through these sanctions as the country battles to curtail the pandemic, which as at June 4, exceeded 167,000 infections and eight thousand deaths.
The USA has not reduced its presence in the Middle East, merely shifting some of its military equipment from Iraq, illegally into Syria; and had, amongst others, escalated its destabilisation activities in countries such as Venezuela.
Turkey and its aligned mercenaries continue to destabilise countries such as Syria and Libya. And Israel is proceeding with implementing the rejected Trump “Deal of the Century” and the annexure of Jordan Valley – an act that will displace 70,000 Palestinians; remove fifty percent of West Bank agricultural land resulting in a sixty percent loss of income from produce; deny Palestinians access to 170 million cubic litres of water; and block access to the Jordanian border. Aggression towards Lebanon and Syria have also escalated.
The Covid-19 statistics confirm that countries with humanitarian, outward-looking, and collaborative approaches to managing the pandemic have better contained the spread of the virus and consequently have lower pandemic mortality figures. This was the general approach taken by the South African government, which despite having a mixed economy, placed the saving of lives, first. Hence the rate of the pandemic growth across the country in general, is contained, in accordance with global standards. The South African government has also constructively contributed to the management of the pandemic on the rest of the continent, as well as globally.
The Western Cape, however, despite it being a province in South Africa, is managed by the Democratic Alliance, a known pro-capitalist, or pro-business party. And true to its ideological character, the DA placed money above lives. The costs of the Western Cape undermining the general national trajectory have been high as they now battle to manage the huge socio-economic disparities due to their governance inefficiencies, as well as the spread of the pandemic.
It is most unfortunate that the Western Cape provincial government sees itself as separate to the rest of South Africa. Their choices are keeping all of us in a permanent state of distress as we receive messages of relatives and friends that are affected, or that have passed on. Their failure to manage the pandemic has little to do with the weaknesses of national government, and everything to do with their ideological disposition and their decisions to follow the West.
* Reneva Fourie is a policy analyst specialising in governance, development and security.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL.