BESG SUPPORT WORK DURING THE COVID-19 LOCKDOWN
A message from our Executive Director
On 2 April we announced on our website and Facebook page that BESG was one of 12 NGOs and social movements that had been invited to partner the Department of Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation, to mitigate the impact of the Covid-19 virus in informal settlements where we work. We took part in a video conference with the Minister and senior officials to guide them as to what communities needed the most at this critical time. Top of the list were public health information, access to water, access to toilets that are cleaned regularly, food security, and access to low cost means of maintaining personal hygiene.
We submitted a list of settlements which are suffering water stress and lack of clean toilets to the DHS Covid-19 Sector Group. We also contacted the community leadership in all the areas where we work and invited them to designate two people who could be accredited for travel permits and assist in directing emergency services and other responses on the ground. Two of our Human Settlements team, Khulekani Mfeka and Nomtha Sikhosana, have been accredited to perform essential services and are able to support our community partners via e-mail, WhatsApp, or in person. Please follow social distancing at all times.
Some community partners have expressed concern that BESG is acting for the government on an unknown agenda. The harsh reality is that government does not know or understand the challenges facing communities, or how to navigate in settlements to provide the relief that is needed. When the promised water tankers and toilets arrive, someone needs to direct them to the settlements. Someone needs to direct them within the settlements as to where there is road access, and where the areas of greatest need are – usually those that are the farthest from a public road. In instances it will be necessary to “re-block” sections of a settlement and selectively demolish or relocate some households, so that water can be reticulated, toilets can be serviced and emergency vehicles have access. This can only be done through a process of consensus.
BESG staff are concerned that government is not responding to the most urgent and critical needs facing communities. Instead it has adopted a view that social distancing needs to be achieved by the “de-densification” of informal settlements. This came to the fore in a media release published on News24.com late on Tuesday evening 7 April, with the heading, “Sisulu ropes in NGOs in bid to thin out dense informal settlements.”
BESG was not, and will not be, party to any such top-down agendas. We believe this “de-densification” plan is an impractical, costly, divisive, and wholly inappropriate strategy to enforce social distancing. Covid-19 will not cause government to achieve what it has failed to do in the past 10 years of the Informal Settlement Upgrading Programme, which is to provide secure tenure, incremental services and dignity to some 2 million households. We shall only defeat this virus by sharing information, behavior change, the provision of lifeline services, and working together for the common good.