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'Closing the Gate': the state and the people in rural South Africa in the time of COVID

Source Africa Insight
Authors L. BankN.V. Sharpley
OUTPUT TYPE: Journal Article
Print HSRC Library: shelf number 9812670
handle 20.500.11910/21573
The article explores the interaction between the South Africa state and rural communities in the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa following the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. It suggests that the state adopted a particularly repressive lockdown strategy in the former homelands or rural areas because it feared that customary practices, like male initiation, and rural funerals would emerge as potent 'super spreaders' of the COVID-19 virus. The heavy-handed clampdown that followed took rural communities by surprise and created a culture of fear and panic, as many wondered why the state was 'closing the gate' on their homesteads, their culture and communities in a time of crisis. This feeling was exacerbated with the collapse of the provincial health service during the first and second waves of infection in 2020 when clinics, hospital and government departments closed across the province for deep cleansing, strike action or due to the lack of medicine and equipment. This entrenched fear and the sense of exclusion and victimisation in rural areas. In 2021, with the arrival of vaccines, the Eastern Cape government was mandated to vaccinate a substantial proportion of the provincial population within a year. Suddenly, the gate opened as the provincial government now sought to communicate with rural people and win popular support for its vaccination drive. The article explores how the gate closed on rural communities in the Eastern Cape within a wider discussion of pandemic politics and state control, on the one hand, and the challenges associated with the emergence of more democratic forms of public health, or what Richards calls 'people science' on the other.