Is our social welfare system ready for a complete lockdown?

(Almost titled rambling thoughts of a COVID-19 observer)

So, a couple of weeks back I was given the option of working from home and I guess that makes me one of “those people.” I was excited for a couple of days because this meant that I can work in my pyjamas, while I eat blue Doritos (hi). It also meant that I could basically work my time the way I wanted, ensuring that I had the right amount of work done over the right amount of work time. I thought about this and what it meant for me going home because my parents are over 60… Does that mean I stay in the house by myself- or rather with my dog? As all these things were crossing my mind and as I was excitedly thinking about all the things I should buy #stockuponthetissue, I was also thinking about all the areas that I needed to sanitize regularly (hello jik). As I was thinking about all this, I realized that there were some over-arching, external things and situations I hadn’t been thinking about that we, as a country, need to take into consideration…. Leading to the question: is our social welfare system ready for lockdowns and quarantines?

First of all, let’s talk about the way the eSwatini is set up. Like, we are so good at “translating” (read as copying and pasting) international policies and implementation processes into our response to COVID. I mean, that’s great because why would we waste thinking power on something that has already been put in place and that seems like it will work? In doing that we have neglected unpacking the impact this will bring to our communities (I don’t know if neglected is the right word here). I am not even going to talk about what this means for the rural areas as an independent area of concern, I am not going to talk about what this means for our grandparents, I am not going to touch on what it means for how bogogo will get their monthly allowances and all those things. Let’s talk about things that I feel like we often ignore. Let’s talk about children. We know that eSwatini is a country with one of the highest orphaned and vulnerable children rates which means that a lot of these children do not have anyone to take care of them at home, which means that a lot of them depend on the neighbourhood care points for the meals. So, we are going on lockdown and schools have been shut down for at least a week already. The question for me then becomes, what it means for food allocations.

Where’s the food at?

Let’s start with that, basic things. FOOD. Let’s think about the parents who go to work and maybe have lunch/ break meals provided for them at work. In so many cases you find that these parents will bring lunch boxes and put food in their containers to take home to their children. Then you think about the children who rely on school break and lunch (thank you government there!) for food. SO what you are saying is as schools are closing and as lockdown starts, children are at home… What are they eating for their break? What are they eating for lunch? We need to realise that in some of these situations – and in a lot of our situations as a country – the school and the NCPs are the only places that some children get food and, as soon as you put them in a place of isolation and shut down the schools; as soon as you dictate that all schools and all non-essential services need to be shut for an indefinite amount of time, some children lose their access to meals. I think that’s one thing that we need to take into consideration as a country. Like, what are these children going to do in these instances? And so now you talk about that and then it translates to the parents.

Are the parents gonna be alright?

So you have children right? Maybe you have two or three maybe four or five. I mean, maybe even more that. You have children at home who are really hungry all the time, you have to provide! It is your duty as a parent to do so. Let’s say you are providing, you’re that lady (or man) working on the street – in one way or the other. Assuming a single-parent family, which is more common than not, where only one parent is doing the provision, we are rapidly getting to a place where all those people who feel like “ayyy COVID” – and they have every reason to – are not purchasing things as much as they would in town. You are not sure what the partial lockdown means for you which means you are not sure how you will be getting money to support the food that you have to provide multifold now because children are home for an extended period. So what does that mean?

Psychologically, once people get frustrated it’s easy for them to take their frustration out somewhere else. It may be that parents take it out on the children. What does that mean for the family? Individuals might be shouting more, maybe beating their children up more. As children say they are hungry it gets frustrating and those frustrations will be channelled somewhere.  What are we doing about those cases? How are we making sure that the single-parent homes  – and not even single-parent homes actually –  and the families that live by street vending or those services that will not be operational or fully functional are surviving? How are we making sure that individuals in these industries can still support their families? How are we making sure that they can still support their children? That’s one thing that I really think we need to think about at a deeper level, as a country – Especially as we look at cases like Italy where it’s been months since corona has come into play. How long are we going to be on lockdown? How long are we going to be in a state of emergency? We speak of two months but is it really going to be two months?

Frustrated people frustrate people

And, finally, the argument is… Well, hold on, let’s go back to the issue of frustrations. When people get frustrated they often take their frustration out in other areas, in other places. Let’s think about that. If you are frustrated, what are you doing? I was reading a couple of articles on this, trying to figure out what psychologists have deduced from this period. Really, what it boils down to is when people are frustrated, they take their frustration out on someone else. This means that at a family level if I am a man… Backtrack, maybe there are some generous companies where you can get indefinite leave but really are there any? And maybe there are a few jobs where a person can work from home. That said, let’s not ignore the fact that, if you can work from home you are probably in a place of privilege because it means that you have the tools to work from home: You have internet access in your home, you have stable electricity in your home but that is not a general case in eSwatini. If you are working from home you are fortunate but then there’s a lot of people in construction; hourly-paid workers even, who will have to lose their jobs during this time. Maybe not permanently but for an extended period. Ontrack again, once this happens, frustration is inevitable. I am not even going to go into the frustrations that might come with alcohol abuse or the ones that may come with drug abuse; let’s just leave that on the side for now because for me the biggest concern is children and women in eSwatini right now.

So think about these cases where men are frustrated – and women even – they are frustrated and cannot bring money into the home; they cannot bring resources into the home which means they have to find an alternative way to ensure their families survive during the lockdown. How does that work? How does this work for these families? If a man or a woman… if a parent gets frustrated, they can lash out. And, usually, the people to suffer may be the spouse initially and then the children. There is no doubt that this situation leads to extended physical abuse of significant others and the children. We think about this and it seems, as a country that is not so focused on mental health anyways, this is going to be a major issue. Now I start thinking about the long-term repercussions but let’s look at it short term… The amount of physical abuse in the home might increase. What are we doing? How are we going to curb this? How are we going to deal with this social issue? Where in most cases in this country we are not even going to talk about it because “Tibi tendlu“. So as we think about the lockdown, as we have all these committees – however many they are at this point. lol – that are thinking of solvency and how we can curb some of the implications of the lockdown, let’s think about the social welfare aspect of it all.

How is our social welfare system being prepared for this? How are we going to counter these issues? How are we going to deal with everything that rises because of isolation; because of lockdowns and because of the state of emergency as it is right now and what we expect businesses and companies to do. So, yah… I have so many thoughts on COVID implications – short term and long term -, let’s just start with the welfare system. I have so many questions that I hope that our system can address… But for now, please stay safe, stay sanitized and stay blessed!

*Initially written March 25th, 2020 (So some of my questions have been answered, somewhat, now)