“Covid-19 anywhere is a threat to health everywhere.” This quote from Bill and Melinda Gates’ latest annual letter does, however, apply to more than the pandemic. It says something about taking responsibility for one another that extends to much more than wearing a mask.
Covid made us aware that our behaviour is often unintentionally selfish. It forced us to think about the health and vulnerability of others. The virus does not discriminate. It affects us all regardless of social class or wealth or education. And the same principle is also true for other “diseases”.
Poverty can be such a disease. It might be far removed from your everyday life, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t affect you. Poverty often results in crime and perhaps it is an important part of the reason why you invest in private security or don’t go jogging alone after dark. Poverty is hard to turn around and it often continues in a vicious circle leading to social tension, unrest and political instability. Far from only affecting the poor, poverty can also result in a negative economic environment that affects even the wealthy. (Read more)
It seems obvious that, in the same way we are responsible when it comes to health threats, we also have a role to play in societal “diseases”. When it comes to poverty, the responsible thing to do has nothing to do with social distancing and wearing your mask, but perhaps rather to pay your taxes and to be prudent in your business endeavours, to create employment, provide training opportunities, contribute to the economy. You might encourage your children to study and work hard to be self-sufficient and you might spend and invest your money wisely to not be a burden on family or the state when you retire.
It seems so obvious. We might not always think of it like this, but other than providing for our families, are we not also working hard to make a difference to our communities? To contribute to our local economies? Is a flourishing community not to the benefit of all? Of course, sometimes our own contributions are not enough. Sometimes government and corporate support are required, but that is also why we pay our taxes and why we vote for those who we think will be responsible leaders. We expect responsibility and accountability.
Social responsibility is commendable when it comes to individuals, but it is what is expected from governments. Everyone – affluent communities, successful businesses as well as those who are poor and unemployed – expect government to do what is in the best interest of its people. It is no easy job to govern and when there is much diversity and inequality, the challenge is even bigger – and that is even without an unexpected pandemic. Our current situation is an exceptional test for even the most hands-on government: Trying to protect its people from a relentless super-infectious virus and at the same time keeping industry and the economy alive!
Do remember, however, that even pre-Covid, the South African economy was just about junk and unemployment reached a record high. Like in many other instances, Covid alone is not to blame for the collapse we see, it just exposed existing cracks. There is also some truth in this when it comes to wine and tourism in South Africa. While the Western Cape wine and tourism industries are really important to the local economy, it is no secret that many wine farms were already struggling to be profitable. And while Cape Town and the Cape Winelands are such popular tourism destinations, perhaps relying on foreign currency and international visitors have estranged the industry from the local market.
The models might not have been perfect, but they did generate income and they did employ – making them worthy of the state’s protection. It was expected that industries such as tourism and hospitality would be hard hit by the pandemic and we can agree that they were facing challenges regardless. But, the irresponsible blanket approach to alcohol sales had dire consequences for the communities of the Western Cape and one can’t blame them for feeling abandoned.
The Western Cape economy is taking a serious hit and while this province might be a political thorn in government’s side, its economic dilemma will not be contained to the Southernmost part of the country… “poverty anywhere is a threat to society everywhere.”