Indeed, the South African economy is on a downward spiral and that is unbelievably bad, not just for our growth prospects, but the rights and lives of women in particular. In many ways COVID-19 lockdown restrictions simply exacerbated the effects of our country's poor economic choices and lack of economic growth.
According to a 2017 University of Cape Town study conducted at the Hanover Park Midwife Obstetric Unit, being pregnant and food insecure more than doubled the chance of pregnant women developing depression or an anxiety disorder and is strongly associated with attempting suicide. This is troubling, as untreated mental illness in pregnant mothers has been shown to be linked to premature birth and low birth weight.
After giving birth, mothers will likely have difficulty caring for themselves or their babies. If a new mother is not able to connect emotionally with her baby, in some cases neglect or even hostility towards the baby may follow. These all matter for the development of a child because if they are deprived of these inputs they can, in the longer term, develop social, emotional and behavioural problems.
Downstream these problems will ultimately show up as costs to public finances in the form of healthcare expenditure associated with alcohol abuse, domestic and community violence, and drug addiction. It will also affect costs in the criminal justice system, from policing resources, courts, and the prison system. There are downstream costs socially as well for the next generation of women, as the young men whose mothers experience food insecurity will also likely grow up in violent and suboptimal environments and visit their pain and trauma on the rest of society, but in particular on women.
Our rape crisis in this country is complex, but one of the factors is the problem of food insecurity and that has been exacerbated by our stringent lockdown.
Perhaps the most heart-breaking illustration of how government socialist central planning leads to a lack of economic freedom and state collapse, is Venezuela. As of July 2020, an estimated 4.5 million Venezuelans have fled a country blighted by unemployment, collapsing utilities, a defunct healthcare system, and severe food shortages.
As refugees, women have been particularly vulnerable to sexual exploitation, violence, and trafficking. Many of them have fled to neighbouring Colombia where they are often propositioned by smugglers, traffickers, and armed groups, and if desperate enough, they are paid anywhere between a single dollar to two dollars during quarantine to sell their bodies. Their children, as young as ten, are often forcibly abducted and trafficked by armed groups.
Closer to home in Zimbabwe, where the disastrous policies of the ZANU-PF have led to state collapse, women and girls are also being forced to sell their bodies to survive. Jessie Majome, a former Deputy Minister of Women's Affairs, summed it up when she said in a 2015 Guardian interview:
"There are children doing sex work. It is a terrible phenomenon. We talk of the economic collapse of Zimbabwe in GDP and dollars, but we do not talk about it in lives and hopes. This is the worst effect of Zimbabwe's economic decline. We have whole armies of girls who are selling their bodies."
As Majome rightly points out, we should not talk of economic decline in purely numerical terms. We must also link it to lives and hopes.
The signs are already there for South Africa, with a defunct healthcare system, severe economic contraction, business closures, and significant job losses. When we talk of the need for structural reform, we cannot simply talk in numerical terms - we must be diligent to talk about the lives and hopes of ordinary South Africans, especially women and children.
This is where advocates for children's and women's rights and advocates for economic freedom are needed. Painful structural reforms must come together to prevent an even further slide down the road to absolute hell.
We have not begun to fully reckon with the costs of years of government mismanagement and poor economic performance, and how this has been exacerbated by a poorly devised and stringent lockdown by the government. We are on the precipice, and unless tough decisions are made that will encourage investment and job creation, we cannot hope to tackle the fury, violence, and degradation that is coming. I'm confident that is not hyperbole.This article was first published on City Press on 22 September 2020