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Digital discussion tackles impact of COVID-19 on marginalised groups

The impact of the global COVID-19 pandemic on historically disadvantaged groups was recently highlighted in a two-part interactive digital discussion which was aimed at assisting government in designing responses to COVID-19.

The roundtable discussions around COVID-19 was presented by Law Trust Social Justice Chair at Stellenbosch University's (SU) Faculty of Law, Prof Thuli Madonsela.

Madonsela said the intervention had been motivated by concern over the global health threat posed by COVID-19 and the implications of this pandemic and policy responses to it for social justice, as reflected in equal enjoyment of all rights and freedoms, the rule of law and peace.

The dialogue helped to identify, review and assess the policy responses to the COVID-19 pandemic, noting what has worked, has not worked and why, and to emerge with proposals designed to engage key sectors of society for more socially just responses and outcome.

The discussions around the COVID-19 pandemic kicked off with discussions on the interconnectedness of issues surrounding the pandemic. Issues highlighted included the effect of lockdown and social distancing on the poor and marginalised groups and how government could be assisted in drafting responses to the pandemic.

“In designing responses to COVID-19 and planning, government should be conscious of the particular impact of the virus on vulnerable and marginalised groups and ensure that their needs and experiences are fully accounted for in the plans and strategies," said Madonsela.

She added that they were mindful that stringent measures were necessary to contain the spread of COVID-19, but policy responses were bound to have an unequal impact across diverse contexts, and that due to pre-existing socio-economic fault lines, the exacerbation of poverty and inequality was inevitable unless consciously addressed.

The second discussion, which took place on 23 April 2020, focussed on finalising a general statement to be handed to government in an attempt to be more inclusive and relook some of the restrictions as opposed to a one-size-fits all approach.

Madonsela said crisis had a way of tearing people apart, and oftentimes leadership determined that. However, she commended the South African government and president for uniting the people and reminding everyone of the challenge at hand.

“We acknowledge with deep gratitude and applause, the swift policy and relief responses by government, business, civil society and the international community to COVID-19, and note the underlying goodwill," she said.

“We need to commend government for the response and their efforts during this tough time, but we cannot be blind to the gaps which could cause new social injustices," she added.

The general statement suggesting policy changes was a result of seven working groups in areas such as Economy and Economic Rights, Food Security and Other Social Rights, Education, Poverty Mapping and Data, Health and Mental Health, Rule of Law and Policy Tracking and Gender – Cross-cutting Issues.

Facilitators of the digital discussions included Marna Lourens, Project Manager at the Law Trust Chair in Social Justice; Prof Sandra Fredman, Professor of Law at Oxford University; Dr Pali Lehohla, the former Statistician-General; documenter of the lived experiences of black women, Nokwanda Sihlali; Prof Jason Bantjies from the Psychology Department at SU; and Motsoari Nthunya, student activist.

Originally published by Asiphe Nombewu on the Stellenbosch University website.

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By Chair in Social Justice team
Published 09 May 2020

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About the Chair:

Professor Thulisile “Thuli” Madonsela, an advocate of the High Court of South Africa, is the law trust chair in social justice and a law professor at the University of Stellenbosch, where she conducts and coordinates social justice research and teaches constitutional and administrative law.

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