In an effort to mitigate the impact of the Covid-19 outbreak in South Africa, the government has planned mass evacuations for tens of thousands of people living in informal settlements across the country.
Townships in the Western Cape, Gauteng, Eastern Cape and Kwa-Zulu Natal are said to be in advanced stages of implementing a move to ‘safe zones’ to halt the spread of the virus. This comes after the Khayelitsha township in the Western Cape reported a positive case of Covid-19 – reportedly the first coronavirus case in an informal settlement in South Africa.
The aim of the relocation is to de-congest extremely dense living conditions prevalent in the settlements and which can result in rapid spread of the virus and increased infection rates. Another issue is that residents of these townships are often unable to practice the social distancing and hygiene regulations recommended by the World Health Organization and SA government due to a lack of clean water and sanitation facilities in these areas. Thus, dispersing communities seems to be the most viable solution at this time.
The communities of Khayelitsha, Taiwan as well as eNkanini informal settlements have been notified of the plans to have them evacuated from their homes. According to National Department of Human Settlements spokesperson, McIntosh Polela, these plans are already at an advanced stage. “While this is urgent, it is also an initiative that requires a sensitive approach.”
He could not confirm the number of people set to be removed from their homes, as historically, many people refuse to leave their life-long homes in places common to them, and consultations are still on-going.
“Historically, our communities have resisted being moved. As such, we are careful that they are consulted and assured that they are going to be moved not far from the current place of their residence. We also cannot communicate some aspects of this initiative because of the ongoing consultations,” he said.
“Several communities in four provinces have been identified for the temporary relocations. The measure is aimed at mitigating the impact of the Covid-19 outbreak.
The department of human settlements is also not giving out the names of the identified communities, “because we do not want to cause unnecessary panic. We recognise that moving people from their homes can be stressful, hence we will allow for consultations to take place before giving this information publicly,” added Polela.
The Department of Public works is also in the process of identifying the appropriate land parcels to use as temporary settlements. More details on this initiative will be relayed in the coming days.