The lockdowns imposed by various governments in Southern Africa to curb the spread of COVID-19 made it harder for millions, especially the poor, to access food. The lack of income, police violence and business shutdowns are among the challenges causing food insecurity of the populace.
Amnesty International calls on governments in the region to urgently put in place social protection, including food subsidies for those living in poverty, and directly providing food to those who are unable to provide for themselves.
“With inequality and unemployment so high across Southern Africa, the majority of people live hand to mouth – meaning that they cannot afford to remain in lockdown for a week, let alone for a month, because they have no financial means to stockpile,” said Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International’s Director for East and Southern Africa.
“Without support from the government, the lock down could become a matter of life and death for those living in poverty. Currently, many are being forced to choose between complying with lock down measures and going hungry, or stepping out to access food and being penalized for it.”
The majority of population in the region make their living in the informal sector, like street vendors or manual labourers. Under the current lockdown regime these are considered non-essential roles and people in this sector are prohibited from working. As a result, many people cannot earn money to buy food.
At the same time, going to the supermarket to buy food can be a dangerous undertaking. While supermarket trips are permitted under lockdown rules, those found on their way to or coming from stores are often criminalized and sometimes attacked by the security forces.
Across the region, combinations of civilian police and soldiers have been deployed to the streets to monitor the movement of people and ensure they comply with lockdown measures. However, security personnel are using disproportionate force in dealing with members of the public, including beatings and other forms of public humiliation.
In Zambia, police were seen indiscriminately beating up people on the streets, including in pubs, after they were found in public. The national police spokesperson, Esther Katongo, later said on national television that police in Zambia had adopted a strategy to “hit” and “detain” anyone found on the streets. “We hammer you, we hit you, then we do detention. If you escape, you are lucky,” she said in a media interview.
In Zimbabwe, police officers raided Sakubva vegetable market in Mutare at dawn on 3 April, causing more than 300 vegetable vendors to flee and leave behind their produce. Police carried out the raid despite the agriculture sector being flagged as an essential service during the 21-day lockdown.
The police later burnt the vegetables and the vendors are yet to be compensated for their loss.
In Mozambique the local television station STV has reported cases of police accused of taking advantage of the state of emergency to raid informal vendors’ tuckshops and steal their goods, even when the tuckshops are closed.
In Angola, several incidents of police violence have been reported since security forces were deployed to the streets to ensure public compliance to the lockdown. Several men were arrested while on their way to buy food in the market in Cabinda.
In Madagascar, one of the world’s poorest countries, there are growing concerns regarding people’s access to food. There has been a sharp increase in the price of basic food commodities following the lockdown
Media reports in different countries across Southern Africa have highlighted the problems that lock down measures in the absence of adequate support from the government, have created for those living in poverty. Women, children and other vulnerable groups such as those with disabilities are especially impacted.
“Lockdown measures in place across the region, intended to lessen the catastrophic consequence of COVID-19, must be accompanied with social protection measures for those living in poverty and facing unemployment in order to mitigate the impact of this double jeopardy of lock down and hunger. Governments cannot criminalize people for leaving their homes to look for food or because they need to work in order to make a basic livelihood,” said Deprose Muchena.
“Governments must ensure that no one faces hunger and should put social protection measures in place to uphold human rights. No one should be left behind.” (Source: Amnesty Intl.)