JOHANNESBURG (AP) — The coronavirus is highlighting South Africa’s stark inequalities, 26 years after the end of the country’s apartheid regime of racial oppression, the president told the nation on Monday.
President Cyril Ramaphosa said on Freedom Day, the public holiday marking the country’s first democratic elections in 1994, that the fight against COVID-19 is underscoring the lasting disparities between South Africa’s rich and poor.
“Some people have been able to endure the coronavirus lockdown in a comfortable home with a fully stocked fridge, with private medical care and online learning for their children,” said Ramaphosa in the televised address.
“For millions of others, this has been a month of misery, of breadwinners not working, of families struggling to survive and of children going to bed and waking up hungry,” he said.
The inequalities between South Africa’s black majority and white minority was also highlighted by Nobel Peace Prize winner, retired Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
South Africa is “not the fair and just country that it should be” said Tutu in a statement issued by his foundation. “The virus has done the country a ghastly favor by exposing the unsustainable foundations on which it is built… that must be urgently fixed.”
South Africa has reported the highest number of confirmed COVID-19 infections in Africa, with at least 4,546 cases and 87 deaths.
Health workers began community-wide screening and testing for the disease in several parts of Johannesburg Monday, especially in crowded, poor areas, such as Alexandra township.
The screening and testing will also concentrate on the Western Cape province, which includes the city of Cape Town and which has largest number of COVID-19 cases.
As a result of its battles against tuberculosis and HIV, South Africa has experience in widespread testing for infectious diseases. It has conducted nearly 170,000 tests for COVID-19. The country has 28,000 experienced community health workers who track contacts of people who test positive to help contain the spread of the disease.
More than 200 doctors from Cuba arrived in South Africa early Monday to help fight the COVID-19 pandemic.
South Africa requested the assistance from the Cuban government, which is sending more than 1,000 doctors to 22 countries, including Togo, Cap Verde and Angola in Africa.
Some of the Cuban doctors have been “in the frontline of fighting other outbreaks in the world such as cholera in Haiti in 2010, and Ebola in West Africa in 2013,” said South African health minister Zweli Mkhize,
Cuba’s government supported the African National Congress in its fight against South Africa’s apartheid system of racist minority rule. Now South Africa’s ruling party, the ANC and has good relations with Cuba.
South Africa’s first black president Nelson Mandela was very friendly with former Cuban leader Fidel Castro. The two countries cooperate in the health sector, with hundreds of South African medical students studying through scholarships in Cuba.
The Cuban medical personnel will stay in a two-week quarantine before starting work in South Africa.