On Saturday 14 March, Khanya College convened discussions among the leadership of the Community Healthcare Workers (CHWs) organised in the Gauteng Community Health Care Forum, and held a broader meeting of social movements activists from African Reclaimers Organisation (ARO), and other organisations to discuss the coming coronavirus disaster and how the working class should respond to it. These discussions looked at the context and causes of South Africa’s failing health care system, and also debated how the government has recently responded to the threat of COVID-19. It became clear to everyone present at the meeting that if we want to survive the coming coronavirus disaster, we cannot rely on our government. The working class must organise itself.
The meeting of social movement activists identified a few main and immediate challenges that the working class need to respond to in order to wage this battle against the coronavirus. The lack of infrastructure in working class communities to deal with COVID-19 and the government’s refusal to take any measures or mobilise the forces and resources needed will pose a great challenge. This could cause a major breakdown of social solidarity among members of working class communities, with violent struggles over resources and the vicious spread of the virus. Another danger is that a demoralised youth could result in a large section of the population not taking the necessary measures and precautions to protect themselves and others and therefore fueling the spread of virus.
In response to these challenges, there are two key strategies forming the campaign that the meeting agreed to adopt as we move forward in the struggle against coronavirus: community awareness; and building community infrastructure. The most important part of this campaign strategy is building organisation at the most local level in our communities.
# Community Awareness
The first phase of this line of action is to focus on raising our community’s consciousness and preparing the ground for social solidarity by distributing information (flyers, posters, performances) at various community centres and making contact with our community members. It is important to make contact with existing local community organisations, like church associations, sports clubs and youth groups as well. Because of the nature of the virus, it is important for activists to adopt the approach of small group meetings (less than 10) and neighbourhood actions. The second phase is to begin to organise local neighbourhood structures.
# Building community infrastructure
These neighbourhood structures can begin to organise the community’s social and physical infrastructure, such as identifying local spaces that can be used as quarantine facilities, mobilising resources like water and food, and taking care of the sick and elderly. These structures can also begin to mobilise the community to force the government at a local level to provide the resources needed to combat coronavirus, like water supply, sanitisers, beds, free testing facilities, medical equipment and personnel, and food for communities.
The more deeply embedded and widespread these community structures are (from house to street to neighbourhood to area to township level), the more effective it will be. But most importantly, though demoralised at the moment, the youth of South Africa are a vital resource. Like in many struggles throughout history, the youth’s commitment and energy will have a major impact on the struggle of the working class against the coronavirus pandemic.
The way we will be organising in this context will have to change, and it will be deeply affected by the coronavirus. We cannot hold large meetings, marches or rallies. We will have to organise in small groups of less than 10, or even 5. We will have to use other means of communication like Whatsapp, websites, sms communication, newsletters, flyers and so on. Khanya College will be using its website – Karibu.org.za – to keep activists and communities informed of developments and of planned actions. The campaign team from the 14 March meeting will also set up a way of communicating and agreeing on actions without having big meetings.