Social safety nets and community spirit help the South African mother through the Covid-19 crisis in South Africa

Around 2.6 million South Africans have lost their jobs since the pandemic

About 25 miles outside of Cape Town, Leebah Bessick wipes her sweat from her forehead as she digs a pitchfork in a community garden in the neighborhood. It’s an unusually hot day here at Blackheath Secondary School and even a shady corner of the garden gives Bessick and the other gardeners little rest from the midday sun.

Even so, she finds refuge here today after going through a year of hardship and unemployment caused by the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic that hit South Africans hard.

“I’ve learned that the only way to survive is to ask for help and receive it from kind people,” says Bessick. “In return, I’ve learned to appreciate the little things in life. I try to help out on community projects to return the favor. “

43-year-old Bessick had a reasonably comfortable middle-class lifestyle until last year the pandemic closed borders and businesses around the world, including South Africa, which has seen one of Africa’s worst outbreaks. The accountant of a small financial services company first had to cut his wages. then, in July 2020, she was released.

The state child benefit, which she has received every month as a single mother of three since her savings ran out, has been a lifeline. Bessick receives the equivalent of $ 90 a month – $ 30 each for her 15-year-old daughter and two boys, ages 7 and 8.

“I didn’t have a lot of money, but I was fine. There was money for things like going to the doctor all month. Now I am stuck with the same contact lenses. My glasses broke. I haven’t been able to change it for a year, ”she says.

Millions of Bessick’s compatriots are in the same plight due to the dual health and economic crises of the pandemic. The virus has infected more than 1.5 million South Africans and killed 54,417 people. This is based on statistics from the national health ministry released on May 2, 2021.

According to the African Development Bank’s 2021 Economic Outlook Report, around 2.6 million South Africans have lost their jobs since the pandemic. Like many financially constrained African countries, South Africa turned to the African Development Bank to support their health and economic efforts in Covid-19. In July 2020, the bank approved a loan of approximately $ 288 million to the government.

Funding supported the provision of basic health needs. By February 2021, South Africa had increased its Covid-19 testing capacity seven-fold and carried out 35,000 tests per day. In the same month one of the few African countries started a vaccination program, although the introduction was slow.

To counter the socio-economic impact of the crisis, 18 million people, or almost a third of the country’s population, have received additional social grants. This has helped lift more than five million people above the food poverty line and alleviate widespread hunger. Over 4.5 million workers have received more than $ 3.8 billion in wage benefits through temporary unemployment insurance. Despite these interventions, the conservative estimate of the unemployment rate in South Africa is 30%.

Patricia Blows, who runs the community garden at Blackheath, encouraged Bessick to work with her to grow vegetables on the school-donated property. Affectionately known as Aunt Pat, she recalls that during the worst of the pandemic, people kept knocking on her door for food. After a while, she said, she couldn’t turn her away, and so Pat – and the rest of her family – contracted the coronavirus.

“Fortunately, it’s getting better now,” she said as the chatter of young people poured into the afternoon air. “But now we have to rebuild.”

Learn more about the bank’s Covid-19 response.

Editor’s note: Shortly after conducting this interview, Leebah Bessick found employment.

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