The impact of technology on mental health during COVID-19

Authors: Mustapha Dumbuya, Johnson Mayamba & Foromo Frédéric Loua

As the world continues to battle the novel coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, which by 14 May 2020 had recorded more than 4 million confirmed cases globally and  claiming more than 300,000 lives. One can be tempted to say that the fight might still be far from ending. Even as researchers work tooth and nail to find a vaccine, with Madagascar claiming to have found a herbal cure, some have described such efforts as more of a marathon than a sprint. In fact, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has warned that people may have to learn how to live with Covid-19 because it ‘may never go away.’

When the cases were fast-rising, governments around the world adopted various measures to contain the spread of COVID-19. On 26 March 2020, South Africa went into a 21-day total nationwide lockdown amid increasing cases of the pandemic. Other measures announced included wearing face masks and other forms of movement restrictions. The lockdown was later extended but it has since been eased since the beginning of May 2020 to ameliorate economic meltdown not only in South Africa but globally.

Apart from having a disastrous impact on economies, these measures come with a plethora of other challenges. The current social distancing policies have had a major impact on people’s lives and wellbeing, especially for those living alone or away from family and loved ones. COVID-19 related social and physical distancing could lead to a feeling of increased loneliness and depression.

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The scourge of homelessness and evictions during the COVID-19 pandemic in the City of Johannesburg

Author: Bonolo Makgale
Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria

Introduction

After confirming the country’s first COVID-19 case on 5 March, South Africa braced itself for a 21-day lockdown, which officially began on 26 March and was initially intended to last until 16 April. The lockdown was subsequently extended to 30 April and has been further extended indefinitely with relaxation of some of the restrictions and some sectors of the economy being allowed to reopen, along with the extension of certain socio-economic relief mechanisms intended to cushion citizens from the hardships that the pandemic is sure to induce. In this light, one of the regulations included a moratorium on evictions, with the understanding that evictions would place vulnerable persons at risk of contracting and transmitting the virus. The provision stipulates: “All evictions and executions of attachment orders, both movable and immovable, including the removal of movable assets and sales in executions, is suspended with immediate effect for the duration of the lockdown.” These regulations were aimed at minimising possible losses of income, particularly among the working class and people in the informal sector.

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COVID-19: How more access to the internet can reduce existing barriers for women’s rights in Africa

Authors: Nelly Warega* and Tomiwa Ilori**
*Legal Advisor, Women’s Link Worldwide
**Doctoral researcher, Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria

On 17 April 2020, a Twitter user tweeted about a hospital in Lagos that demanded personal protective equipment (PPE) from a woman seeking to give birth at the facility. The incident, according to the user happened at the General Hospital, Ikorodu, under the Lagos State Government Health Service Commission. The PPEs have become important for health workers given the surge in transmission COVID-19 across the world. However, despite the rising demand and scarcity of PPEs, a conversation on the propriety of placing the burden of procurement of PPEs on expectant mothers is vital.

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A call to action: Protecting women’s rights in Sub-Saharan Africa during COVID-19 pandemic

Author: Juliet Nyamao
Human Rights Attorney, Kenyan Bar

On 31 December 2019, The World Health Organisation (WHO) was alerted to several cases of pneumonia in Wuhan City, Hubei Province of China. One week later, on 7 January 2020, Chinese authorities confirmed that they had identified a novel coronavirus as the cause of the pneumonia. Following this discovery, China witnessed unprecedented increase in morbidity and mortality rates of victims of the virus. Ultimately, the Director-General of WHO, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus declared the COVID-19 outbreak a public health emergency of international attention under the International Health Regulations (2005), following recommendations from the members and advisers to International Health Regulations (IHR) Emergency Committee for Pneumonia.  Although measures were taken to halt international travel the virus had already spread to other regions of the world including Africa.  According to the John Hopkins University Corona Virus Resource Center, the pandemic has had devastating effects in Europe, Asia and the Americas with mortality rate of more than 100,000 people, with a total of more than 1.7 million confirmed cases worldwide.

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COVID-19 and the access to information conundrum in Africa

Author: Hlengiwe Dube
Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria

As the world grapples with the deadly COVID-19 pandemic, the disease caused by the novel Corona-virus, Africa has not been spared. Although the rate of infection is still lower than the rest of the world, it is rising steadily. Governments across the world have initiated partial or nationwide crisis management measures including curfews, lockdowns, contact tracing, surveillance and testing  to curb the spread of the virus, which has been coined as measures to flatten the curve’. For these government-initiated emergency measures to be effective in curbing the spread of the virus, the public must comply with the government regulations. Access to information becomes very essential for the realisation of this objective and by extension other equally essential goals such as achieving the human right to health.

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Apartheid, gender and property relations in South Africa: Some reflections from Rahube v Rahube & Others

Authors: Kennedy Kariseb & Nimrod Muhumuza

Kennedy Kariseb Nimrod Muhumuza

Land reform is a litmus test for how far post-apartheid democratic South Africa is willing to go to redress its abhorrent racist and sexist history. There have been several attempts to reconcile colonial and apartheid-era laws with their concomitant rights and obligations in the new democratic dispensation, epitomised by the transformative 1996 Constitution. The latest proposal is to expropriate land without compensation which is currently undergoing public consultation. However, scant attention has been paid to the gendered land relations that have excluded women from owning land in their own name.

The recent  judgment of Kollapen J in Rahube v Rahube & Others,[1] is one such case that indicates the difficulty of reconciling the impact of a skewed racial, gendered history in a new democratic dispensation premised in a supposedly transformative constitutional regime.[2] The Rahube judgment is another (rather unfortunate) reminder of the subordinate position that women occupy in South Africa, as in most parts of Africa, reminding us that inasmuch as land and property relations in South Africa were racially anchored, they were, (and still are) thoroughly gendered. This is because for the most part, colonial and apartheid laws and practices limited, and at worst excluded women from accessing and controlling resources such as property, including land.[3]

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The right to health for refugees in South Africa: Concrete reality or wishful thinking?

Author: Cristiano d’Orsi
Research Fellow and Lecturer at the South African Research Chair in International Law (SARCIL), University of Johannesburg

Scope of the study: How the ‘right to health’ is intended in this work

South Africa (SA) is one of the largest economies in Africa. Since December 2010 the country is a member of the informal association of five major emerging world economies (BRICS) and the only African country to be a member of the G20, the major international forum for economic cooperation and policymaking.

At the end of 2016, SA was reported to be hosting 91,043 refugees.

Although SA has ratified a good number of human rights legal instruments since the end of apartheid, in 1994, , the actual implementation of the rights enshrined in some of them still remain problematic. One such right is the  right of refugees to have access to adequate healthcare in the country.

This situation occurs also because access healthcare services in SA, as with many other fundamental rights in the republic, has historically been biased in terms of a number of arbitrary grounds (p. 55).

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94 mental health patients in Gauteng: A lesson for State parties to the CRPD – A classic case of a poor deinstitutionalisation process

Author: Patricia Mwanyisa
Consultant – Human Rights and Access to Justice

As South Africa took time to celebrate its annual human rights day on March 21, this year (2017) the deaths of the 94 patients in Gauteng Province in a space of under a year should not be forgotten. The provincial government of Gauteng took the decision to remove persons with psychosocial and intellectual disabilities from government health institutions to reduce spending on their healthcare. The implementation process was poorly planned, rapidly executed and chaotic.  The move had fatal and disastrous consequences as it not only contravened national and international law, but also proved cruel and inhumane. The record shows 94 lives were lost, families have been severely traumatised and a healthcare support system regardless of whether it was the most ideal or not was shaken to its knees.

Apart from violating domestic law – the National Health Act 61 (2003) and the Mental Health Care Act 17 (2002)) – as a State party to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), among other international instruments, there are several frameworks that were contravened by South Africa. This case provides an opportunity for some serious learning for South Africa (SA) as well as other African States. Learning from previous mistakes is vital for progress. Focus should be directed on how to avoid making similar mistakes in the future. It is probably more important to provide guidance to State parties or governments when they have made mistakes as opposed to the naming and shaming – particularly after the fact. To be productive, however requires the state or those in power to accept responsibility, acknowledge their mistakes and be receptive to the guidance. Ultimately, objectively and substantively unpacking the critical aspects or points at which things went wrong in the Gauteng saga from an international human rights perspective would be beneficial for the planning and implementation of these types of projects or programmes in the future.

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South Africa’s intention to withdraw from the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court: Time to seriously consider an African alternative?

rodger_owisoAuthor: Owiso Owiso
LLB – Nairobi, PGD Law – KSL

While the decision by South Africa to commence the formal process of withdrawing from the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court is shocking, honest observers will admit it was not entirely unforeseen. African countries through the African Union (AU) have long voiced misgivings about the International Criminal Court (ICC) and it was just a matter of time before the usually slow-moving AU clock started ticking. The AU had earlier this year urged its members to consider withdrawing from the Rome Statute.[1] This was triggered by the refusal by the United Nations Security Council and the ICC to accede to the AU’s requests for suspension or termination of the cases against Sudan’s president Omar al-Bashir and his Kenyan counterpart Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto.

While South Africa’s decision should be condemned, nothing much is likely to come of such condemnation. Treaties are a product of state consent[2] and it follows that withdrawal is equally a unilateral act of the state.[3] Even if an argument could be advanced against such unilateralism, the process is still a political one which rests almost entirely with the political class, at least in imperfect democracies. South Africa’s move is likely to embolden other African countries to commence similar processes. South Africa is Africa’s biggest economy and the AU’s largest member contributor. It is also arguably one of Africa’s better-off imperfect democracies. For these reasons, it is often the case in continental affairs that other African countries hold on to their cards until South Africa plays after which they emerge from their cocoons and play theirs in more or less similar fashion. With the possible exception of ‘righteous’ Botswana and perhaps Mauritius that considers itself African only when the situation suits it, the possibility that other African countries will follow South Africa’s lead on the ICC cannot be ruled out. In light of such possibility, how then does Africa assure its citizens that the fight against impunity as is entrenched in its founding instrument[4] is still top of its agenda, if at all it ever was?

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20 years after the TRC: Are we any the better?

thabang_mokgatleAuthor: Thabang Mokgatle
Candidate Attorney, Rushmere Noach Incorporated, Port Elizabeth, South Africa

“We are looking to maintain not retribution but reparation; we are seeking room for humanity rather than revenge”
– Desmond Tutu, First hearing of the TRC in April 1996

15 April 2016 marked the twentieth anniversary since the Truth and Reconciliation Committee (TRC) first commenced in South Africa. In reflecting on the occasion, the words of Desmond Tutu above quoted have unveiled two pertinent questions:  Did post-apartheid South Africa, in 1996, require a moment for justice or for reconciliation? Would the pursuit of the former in the first instance, not have led to the achievement of the latter? There is a growing sense that in prioritising the ‘rainbow nation’, the TRC substantially undermined the realisation of justice (institutional justice through the court system). Victims of apartheid-era crimes have supposedly been short-changed, leaving much to be desired since the TRC first convened.

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