Family Decisions on Health and Economic Survival: A Struggle for Inclusive Mercy in Southern Africa during the Covid-19 Pandemic

Mpilo Pearl Sithole, University of the Free State, South Africa

Family Decisions on Health and Economic Survival: A Struggle for Inclusive Mercy in Southern Africa during the Covid-19 Pandemic

A. Introduction

This paper looks into the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the African family, and specifically the youth. The intention is to reflect upon how the global hardship of the Covid-19 pandemic impacted on the African family – which already has its own dynamics in terms of how it relates to the globe. There is no getting away from the fact that the pandemic necessitates looking into hardship, because that is what this health scare has imposed on humanity. Yet, it is not a conceptual intention to reduce everything about children and the youth into a projection of people that are ‘operated on’ and who have no agency, zeal and a mission to interpret their situations. The whole analytical project is one that assumes fair analytical engagement must capture all stakeholders’ issues, with a fair consideration of their projected reality and ability. It is important to state this upfront because in many societies children and the youth suffer from a localized discourse of cultural placement. In some societies it translates into the an ‘ever looming release into individualism’; yet in other societies it is a question of living up to an ascribed role in terms of age, gender, sibling sequence, etc. Thus, I want to declare ‘hardship’, ‘localized cultural discourse’, and ‘material needs’ as factors of the environment, not conceptual assumptions intrinsically associated with the concept of youth.

I would also like to state what I mean by ‘African’ in this paper. This is important because, other than referring to ‘an African family’ here in the Introduction, by the end of this analysis I will have demonstrated ‘the informalization of the African’ by the globe. Essentially there are two meanings to the concept of ‘African’ in this paper. The first refers to someone with attributes of geographic subscription and loyalty to Africa, the continent. Interestingly both these can be difficult attributes to ascertain in some people. However, to postpone a long debate for the purposes of proceeding with current analysis, ‘the African’ is one who is self-defining as having a measure of both attributes – geographical subscription and loyalty to the continent. The second use and meaning of ‘African’ in this paper pertains to history. In so far as the continent is obviously dominated by an indigenous population that has a local and colonial history, culture and politics, it goes without saying that some contextual reference to the term ‘African’ will imply more of those existential realities. The amount of time unleashed to defining identities before one is able to articulate matters that concern Africa, is a matter for another paper.

In what follows, let me start by dealing with the analytical methodology. This article is not based on empirical research with an intentional design; it is rather an analysis based on living through the pandemic and secondary material. But it is also prudent to acknowledge the strengths of the reflection imposed by the conditions under which this analysis is made. It is as though one has forfeited something valuable in the research design, but there is something of value gained from shifting the emphasis to analytical design. Having said that, nothing excuses arm-chair practice since we know that in spite of what might be seen as information overflow in modern times, multiple perspectives still matter. The next section outlines the analytical methodology adopted here, and the rest of the paper details the socio-global justice argument that I am advancing based on how society has treated a segment of its population – the youth.

B. A note on analytical methodology

The Covid-19 pandemic disturbed most professional routines. This includes social research, which was plunged into make-shift situations that require careful strategizing around accessing data. For mid-stream projects, ethical protocols had to be revisited to ensure that care was taken on health safety and remote collection of data was encouraged where feasible. In the process, other ethical dilemmas resulted in the potential to exclude people who are ‘not fluent in remote interaction’; researchers have had to be careful in blended interaction for research purposes. Social data is essential in social research;[1] for Anthropology there is no short cut without compromising the idea of holism, which in itself is always a moving target. However, the pandemic illuminated a situation of holistic awareness of issues, even where structured engagement is difficult. Holism began to have new meaning – how the world becomes aware of social actors whether or not there is direct and structured communication with them. The question of regard for well-being has become a physical, emotional, social, mental and spiritual concern simultaneously. The pandemic created a social space where the tangible and intangible elements of survival have all been intertwined.

In 2011 I motivated for what I called ‘intellectual choreography’ – a mapping of intertwined issues that influence the logical search for meaning, regardless of the location of those issues in disciplinary classifications and theory-application binaries. This was simply borne out of the recognition that social issues do not present themselves according to available formats; they require available schemes of understanding to be enmeshed into finding meaning or intervention. Indeed, our research methods have had to benchmark themselves against this criterion of intellectual choreography in the times of the pandemic. Structure and the systematic gathering of data has been somewhat challenged – design and analysis require more iteration. Analytical mapping of what is possible to consider, what is missing, and how to account for what is missing has to be the name of the game. In addition to all this the traditional format of society has been tested by the pandemic – institutions, media, family, work, home, have all been intertwined. A lot was also lost – friendship groupings, peer interaction, travel, and for a researcher: participant observation.

I must clarify the loss of ‘participant observation’, because it is accompanied by a strange paradox – the loss of participation is actually fake. For the first time in the use of the term ‘participant observation’ we can say the ‘observation’ part is weaker than the ‘participant’ part, by virtue of pandemic circumstances. Observation is too mediated at times – remote interaction and social media is incomplete ‘observation’. Yet because media is a lobby tool, an instructive tool rather than a summation of information, it has a slightly different position in its relationship with research in the twenty-first century. There are practical challenges in planning participant observation in the traditional sense that this method has been used (from the time of classical ethnographies of Branislow Malinowski in the 1920s to modern versions of it in the form of grounded theory). The current situation calls for an experiencing researcher acutely conscious that their position is not typical and it is part of multiple positionalities frantically making sense of the world to solve.

This is far from an observer trying to rise above the experiencing part. The pandemic is the kind of analytical space where the environment has to be received as it is, rather than a rush to explore through rising above it.[2] Anthropology has always acknowledged an insider analyst, but even that discipline had not anticipated a situation where everyone is a player, and a referee, and an intervener within a framework and scale prescribed by a specific socio-economic competition. This does not mean that researchers must debunk design. To the contrary, the idea of research design is affirmed. There have been embarrassing instances of stand-alone surveys on complex social matters, which have led society to doubt the credibility of the researcher – all in the name of pandemic-related research adjustments.

In undertaking this analysis, I have thus adopted the method of ‘immersion into society’ at a broader scale of intentionally tracing links of approaches and issues to family decisions and youth expressions on life during the pandemic. This deductive analysis included looking into news platforms, literature analysis, and reflecting on my own incomplete observations, including those of the sector of Higher Education.

C. The Covid-19 environment and the dilemma of the family

There is well-known African saying which translates to: “It takes a village to raise a child”. It used to be cited between neighbors as they discussed the behavioral traits of their children, the discipline issues, peer circles, support by local institutions, and the referral to other members of community for support of the youth. Nowadays it is often resurrected with nostalgia, as something that used to happen in raising a child. The logistics of life are seen as having enforced a certain degree of household seclusion and institutional reliance for solving what used to be left to organic journeys of socialization. For every solution, the school, the clinic, the guidance teacher, the pastor, the after-school care group must be approached formally. Within that environment of social change, technology has gradually been inducting families and young people into new ways of interaction and expansion of the networks through social media – with all the remoteness of social ethos and common etiquette.

All this was already the case before the Covid-19 pandemic. However, the pandemic made the situation worse in many ways – compounding the alienation into a rather rushed manner under frightening, emotionally taxing fear of an invisible attack with no solution. Societies had to learn to cope with not coping. In a way, the Covid-19 pandemic illuminated that human beings are essentially social beings. It was fine to isolate or become aloof at own pace with a choice of digital and remote communication opted for where it was possible; but it was certainly difficult when isolation was imposed. In Africa, in any case, the digital divide is such that digital fluency is a problem – to a point that work and student life through digital platforms was a truly stressful switch. Newspaper articles on student matters lamented anxiety and other mental health issues associated with remote learning – the challenges of finding gadgets, connectivity, and learning remotely.

School leaners and tertiary students alike were in a crisis of an unknown future. The shape of the pandemic was unknown. Focus was impossible just at a personal level of lack of motivation due to fear. Parents were guiding children in a situation that they themselves had no firm point of previous experience. On the other side, children saw the anxiety of parents losing jobs, the pressure on breadwinners where loss of jobs was a reality. For some families, who had depended on daily hustling in the informal sector, loss of economic sustenance was instant and had an impact on young people (see Gittings et al. 2021; Saasa and James, 2020 discuss Covid impact on people, society and institutions). Literature, traditional and social media, captures various facets of social trauma to children, the youth and family:

·      On forging forward as a necessity: There were sporadic instances of children doing studies via social media platforms such as WhatsApp. The major issue was, of course a stark digital divide. In many communities in South Africa space to do homework was an issue in informal settlements. Gadgets are an unaffordable privilege in that context. On the other hand, there was the pressure of conflation of intelligence with technological pragmatism – which has seen a watering down of critical reasoning skills in favor of quiz-learning culture. In the early part of the digitalizing environment, sufficient interaction was not affordable. This has had lamentable consequences in the life of novel entrants to higher education in the context of the pandemic. Educationists started to worry about cognitive presence in teaching (see Maria Tsakeni’s 2021 insightful description of the struggle of teaching and learning with 4IR and the emergency ‘internet of things’ in a rural setting).

·      Food insecurity: This was as a result of loss of employment; curtailed ukuphanta (hustling). In spite of a great deal of empathy and looking out for each other between family members, community structures being there for the homeless, government interventions by way of social grants, and so on; there was real destitution and hunger for many families. Lockdowns created termination of monetary entitlements to students that assist in alleviating hunger. Instead of those entitlements, students went back to struggling homes to add mouths to be fed.

·      Increase in gender-based violence (GBV): Because of lockdowns people who are ordinarily separated by hustling suddenly had to be together for longer with added economic frustration. In societies such as South Africa a phenomenon of gender-based violence needs constant analysis because of its unabated high levels. Women and children are often the victims of growing levels of cruelty. Yet it is clear that whatever is wrong in the combination of culture, socialization, previous trauma, and weak institutional approach to the scourge, it affects men negatively as well. Reports of significantly high levels of suicide amongst men attests to this. GBV, and specifically rape, as well as suicide is an unfortunate feature of current times – worsened by the pandemic. Judy Dlamini (2021) describes in detail the multiple dimensions of GBV in South Africa, especially for women and girls. The point that she makes about Covid worsening an environment that was already a social justice nightmare is well-demonstrated (see also Ramparsad, 2020). She ends up also describing institutional approaches to this problem – most of which are approaches that have always been suggested without much success. Although I will not deal with GBV in detail in this paper the reasons for lack of effectiveness of the approaches are related to the same aloofness described later in this paper for institutional interventions for Covid-19 and the ensuing suspicions.

·      Deep life-changing traumas: Community and family absence at a time of rampant and sudden death had a huge emotional impact on children and the youth. By the time of death of a family member, immense trauma would have already set in, because of seclusion and not being able to help the family member – due to protocols associated with the disease. The nature of death handling and reduced support entailed by restrictions, all created a situation where it is difficult to heal emotionally. Endomba et al. (2020) speak of ‘bad deaths’ in their vivid description of pain and trauma of families nursing and losing their loved ones in sub-Saharan Africa. Many family members feel that they did not give their family members a send-off they deserved by way of funerals. This has created a lingering feeling of guilt and pain for people already traumatized by loss.

·      Intensification of regulation: Urban-rural circular migration is rife in many countries in Africa – for work and hustling. In fact, it can be said that the rural space supports the urban space by sacrifices made to the effect of splitting families and people squatting in urban spaces not welcoming to them. The circular nature of this urban-rural migration for work is a meagre asset to families affected – rural spaces are both a social safety net for families and a dumping ground for ‘human rejects’ no longer useful in the urban space that never really catered for their citizenry. Thus, rural areas become a home to return to – during retrenchments, sickness, old age, and in death for burial. Sad in itself, this aspect of life was hard to fulfill during hard lockdowns that were heavily regulated. At that time, even ukuphathisa (the practice of taking turns to go home and carry remit to various families on behalf of each other) was difficult. Travel restrictions, number-restricted funerals, reliance on each other – all were affected during the lockdowns. In some cases, older children had to step up and be all the rural family had without a predictable connection with a distant migrant parent. If such challenges existed within countries, the challenges of policies that were already not migration friendly within the region, as articulated by Mushomi at al. (2022), inflicted more pain to cross-border migrants.

·      Public health institutions: the relationship between public health institutions and citizens is ridden with classism. In spite of the usual lamentation around resources, the most complicating factor in South Africa is lack of professionalism – a situation where public institutions that see themselves as servicing people of lower economic classes do not live up to administrative efficiency and sense of urgency. Citizens know this and make choices of whether to persevere with home remedies, to opt for a traditional healer or to bite the bullet and go through the dehumanizing experiences of the public health sector. This is the context in which the pandemic came to complicate public health in South Africa. This is the context in which children and young people had to face the reality of losing parents and grandparents. Covid-19 affected older people; the younger generation has had to deal with the injustice of the unequal society and the malice of Covid-19.

·      The ‘civilizing’ approach to delivery of vaccines: When hope for a medical solution dawned, it came packaged in an amazing sense of cognitive arrogance. After months of social media promulgating home-based ways to curb or deal with the infections – vaccines came into the space, already accompanied by the pressing need for herd immunity and not having patience for ‘a reflective human subject’. Vaccine interventions came riddled with science capitalism. The value chain of vaccines is a socio-political matter that the enforcers had no time to entertain. In Southern Africa vaccines were imported from other parts of the world; parts of the globe that do not exactly have a history of compassion with Africa as a continent. Enforced by local leaders, who also do not have a trusted relationship with citizenry, the whole project communicated an attitude that said: ‘Thou shall take what we offer; we know better; you have always depended on us; and we do not expect anything from your context – not for yourselves, let alone for the rest of us’. Through mandatory vaccines local private institutions, employers, and public institutions – all of whom know that the African underling depends on them for sustenance, instituted cognitive gagging that came with ‘the offering of help’. The message of gagging was: ‘Do not question; when we say the solution is ripe, we know it is ripe’.

·      Personal social issues: Cultural rites and important events had to be postponed or cancelled. A scene captured on video gaining widespread publicity in South Africa was that of someone connecting families through big screens for lobolo (bridewealth) negotiations. It flashed through social media at some point during intense lockdown in South Africa. While there was applaud to this, many other families postponed important ceremonies, some of these being important for their human development cycle – initiation rites and weddings, not to mention the strain on funerals and post-funeral rites and ceremonies.

D. Intervention initiatives and the Middle-Class Benchmark

One of the negative results of the Covid-19 pandemic that is clear in all literature based on research that found ways to interact with people, is that institutions began to fully engage their ‘regulation gear’. This actually meant cascading levels of regulation – from government to all institutions and services that people use in their daily life – work, institutions of learning, shops, roads, etc. Life began to be one huge administration instantly. Young people in institutions of learning began to be reduced to statistics and data to regulate. People were reduced to allowable numbers, carriers of entry permits or QR codes, and candidates for travel permits. For students in post-school settings, even competition for limited resources such as computers was calculated using the ‘vulnerability algorithms’ with tangible indicators such as ‘not having a computer’; ‘distance from institutions’; ‘previous poor performance’, etc. Anxiety, untenable social settings, connectivity challenges and how that affected the desire to pursue studies successfully could not be accommodated in the regulatory mode that was executed. All of this was happening in the absence of organic social interaction, where mental health issues needed a self-initiative to table them via remote means.

Because the public health interventions from lockdowns to vaccinations only illuminated the physiology and the economic logic, how various populations received the message of the necessary herd immunity was not addressed from an applied social science perspective. The whole global intervention regime reacted by well-intended and kind messages of:

  • ‘give African countries vaccines; it is not right to discriminate them’
  • ‘donate in good time; not as spared by looming expiry dates’
  • ‘give people psychological counselling as they might be scared of needles’.

Thus, the whole approach did not think about the confusing inter-generational conversations and messages happening in communities in countries with different historical issues, such as:

  • societies with histories of internal suspicion between health institutions and citizens
  • societies where the traumas of regulation of miners inspected for syphilis in groups has not yet been forgotten
  • no proper explanation of the urgency of ‘herd immunity’ in societies where death and grief had previously been normalized during the HIV/AID epidemic, and science kept issuing ‘realistic but long-term projections’ of cure research. People can only be curious about the urgency given the travel ban squabbles that were also apparent
  • many cultural, gender, and religious dynamics that citizens were not taken through – and only dealt with as quick explanations in the massive bid to vaccinate
  • the sheer logistical and negotiation capability of world systems when it comes to vaccination for ‘herd immunity’ was amazing to many people, compared to approaches to curb world hunger and negotiate sustainable access to assets of livelihood.

In all of this the middle-class centeredness of socio-global justice was apparent. The language of isolation, quarantine, and contact tracing may have been well-meant; but public health initiatives did very little to translate what it means for informal settlements, public transport, social grants queues, and limited health care facilities.[3] Some of these things affected young people more as care-givers, given the illness patterns and the split between families. It must be pointed out that the middle-class family in Africa is also emotionally conflicted – because the reduction of their skepticism or hesitation into mere belief in conspiracy theories was also disallowing engagement, and thus gagging. The neat categorization of families into socio-economic categories is not a fair reflection of families in many African countries. In fact, the concept of ‘Black Tax’ (where offsprings of struggling families wrestle with supporting their bigger families straddling geographic locations) comes from the recognition of complications of classifying the Black African family. Thus, when some people were asked to “download the Covid App” in order to be warned about Covid prevalence around them, they read through the snobbishness of the intervention. In South Africa the government had to quickly make arrangements to register people on site for Covid vaccines, because the procedure stipulated - to register electronically first before going to clinics – was untenable for many.

The sum-total implication of all that is described above, which itself is not exhaustive, is that: a) the African family was reduced into an operated-on unit, that contributed very little to the approach to Covid-19 and could not even have a voice to be considered. b) This situation was reflected in the institutional reduction of people into statistics for regulations and management, as well as the subsequent ‘bullying approach’ to vaccination. c) Global empathy played straight into the hands of science capitalism in that it was silent about lack of indigenous expressions to management of Covid, it marketed vaccines, and inadvertently silenced local voice in the bid to lobby for vaccine equity. All of it became a classic case of “alienated consciousness” to use a phrase that aptly captures the emergence of the Black Consciousness Movement (see More 2014).

It is in this sense then that I want to suggest that ‘it has taken a global village to silence the African’. The global socialization precinct has created an environment that endorses the bottom status of Africa in the ladder of conceptual and professional sovereignty. Through my previous written work on care (Sithole 2014), I demonstrate how the depth of African concepts – as frameworks of analysis – that can be used to structure socio-moral relationships embracing planning and institutional practice. There is no reason why global social justice and diplomacy should not be influenced by those analytical frameworks – in order to ground its interventions or even to be influenced to enhance its own frameworks. I have pointed this out several times in relation to the concept of ubuntu, which I have seen being used less than optimally again, by local scholars this time, in relation to the Covid pandemic. Whilst the title of their paper holds a lot of promise,[4] Nxumalo and Edwards (2020) end up simply linking various concepts of love to ubuntu, and missing a chance to emphasize the link between rationality and morality in the concept of ubuntu which stands to fundamentally discourage discriminatory competitive practices. It must be noted that their publication is before the vaccination drive which has led to serious ethical questions being open to scrutiny. Nevertheless, their shallow preaching approach to the analysis of love and ubuntu makes it difficult to go any deeper than simply justifying the aggressive quest for herd immunity as ubuntu.

E. The Context of Decision-Making and Lack of Inclusive Mercy

I want to turn into the African family’s ability to decide for the future of their children and the youth; their ability to plan beyond the ‘waiting for assistance’ mode of survival. Essentially, I hope that by now the inferences that I make here have been sufficiently demonstrated through logic-connections of material and intangible social considerations – in line with ‘intellectual mapping’. Here I zoom into ‘decisions’ in order to show the scope within which individual and family decisions are made in Africa. It all points to a notion of ‘an informalized African’. An informalized African is one who has been shunned from formal schemes of innovation, through alienation of local conceptual and cognitive schemes that frame social life and material sustainability. An informalized African is assigned a status in the formality in value chain only at the frills of acquisition and distribution of products whose innovation is linked to other continents through complex patents and contracts that are hard to entangle. Let me explain this in relation to the African youth in two ways: provision for the family; and innovation and advancement of the family. These two elements (provision and advancement) will be used here to demonstrate the limited threshold of maneuver imposed by the pandemic on the African youth – thanks to the colonial history and impact of the pandemic put together. Although the material and social challenges experienced by the youth in Africa are the same as those of youth elsewhere, the status of ‘the informalized African’ infantilizes the African youth, so that they become the tame middle-class required by global social injustice.

Decision-making environment on provision for material needs: Within government and development space, a couple of products/packages are thrown towards what is assumed to preoccupy the youth – stadiums, events, sporadic training, funds with impermeable coding, and even institutions of rehabilitation in situations of ‘alienation gone wild’ and social behavior gone astray.[5] The quality of education in a context where education is associated with Westernization lives a lot to be desired in terms of building confidence towards innovations and local solutions.[6] On its own, this is a subject of a separate article. It is clear that social mobility through education is intricately trapped in the politics of ‘lacking provisions’ and ‘missing means of learning’ – in the context of a digital divide. During the Covid-19 pandemic this instrumental void creates a diversion from creativity and innovation to a watered down notion of education where ‘having just enough access to fulfil requirements’ becomes an end in itself (see Tsakeni, 2021). Institutions competed for the supply gadgets by global markets; internally within countries socio-economic issues created for unequal access to digital tools of learning.

Covid-19 came to worsen environments where equity and justice had been lacking, The social evolution of capitalism and colonialism had taken away parents from the African child. Generations have been raised by part-time parents and through make-shift arrangements between family members. Migrant parents strive to get closer to the designated environment conducive for the foreign investor in order to work. For the working-class African family, there has never been a fair balance between providing jobs and conducive localities that are kind to social nurturing of families. Literature has been capturing the contestations within capitalism – in terms of material and intangible assets that should have involved socio-economic redress – from the livelihoods debates (see Lipton et al 1996) to notions of ‘democratic capitalism’ (see Southall, 2006). There is abundant literature that demonstrates the persistence of previous advantage afforded by placement in the old racial ladder in South Africa (see for example Singh 2004) – even while the economy has also produced ‘redress millionaires’ who have used the democratic rhetoric to their material gain.

Decision-making environment on personal growth and advancement of society: The scope of decision is limited to using (or not using) what is provided for people. For the youth, it is an environment of growing up in a society which, at best, mimics others – professionally and in terms of consumables. The ‘mastery of mimicry’ is the best route to achievement of upper-class status in the society. The Covid-19 pandemic was accompanied by lockdowns that curtailed survivalist economic pursuits associated with the informal economy; the government was forced to address the question of economic survival as well. Social grant packages were offered – through a temporary increase in social grants already offered and through introducing new relief. While the social relief of distress has been welcomed as a good idea, it is fraught with administrative hurdles that make disbursement complicated and delayed – quite contrary to the urgency that it was meant to exercise. The disillusioned masses, some of whom have waited for close to two years, have watched while the self-centered system evolves: to strive to be paperless and to eventually link up with banks so it can double-check that people have no other income. It has led to complete mockery of poverty through making demands that do not recognize the digital divide, let alone illiteracy. The government’s self-centered technocracy through regulations and mismatched digitalization expectations from potential beneficiaries has led to the unhappiness of civil society.[7]

This is the context in which the resistance to vaccines must be understood. The issue is not about an ‘uncivilized’ mind easily contaminated by conspiracy theories. Rather, science is part of a formalistic environment that is perceived to not listen to people, but hurries to advise and direct. Vocational bigotry characterizes the relationship between local scientists and society; and yet society sees that formal local science merely mimics others and is trapped within science capitalism.[8] This is an environment of mistrust that predates social media and the current conspiracy theories. It is important to raise these things because, other than financial strains experienced by students, describing this cognitive tension also explains why the Higher Education sector is receiving more suspicion than excitement from its youthful clientele in South Africa. The Fallism movement[9]articulates a lot more than material inequalities and need for assistance to access Higher Education. The rejection of Covid-19 vaccines, the sharing of traditional medicines and home remedies will possibly have limited scope to be accessed for research – because many people were careful to dodge the judgmental space of officialdom as they shared their options.[10]

The scope to decide and determine the future for children and the youth in Africa is socially narrowed by the over-exerted formalistic environment on the individual family. Rather than nurturing the youth and local families, that formalistic environment is loyal to imperialism. In the end families are not really making decisions; they are maneuvering. An argument could be advanced that life is about maneuvering anyway and that decisions are made in the context of maneuvering. However, the argument in this paper is that in the African continent, at least based on the observations presented here, the scope to maneuver is limited by an individual-family-society relationship infused with too much patronage over the family. The weight of that patronage on children is worrisome in a society where poverty, culture, formal sphere – all give little room for voice, choice, and the thrill of self-determination by the youth and children.

This is a global socialization precinct in which the African family and the African youth are groomed. Hence when the youth in South Africa speak of “being woke”, this is what they are talking about. They also know that the system creates a self-taming African – because it pushes the individual into needs, debt, and intensifying pressure to satisfy needs. The suction into the middle-class mentality is inevitable. Thus, the system imagines interventions for the middle-class; not for congested ghettos and taxis. The aspirations of children and the youth are also imagined in terms of what the ideal middle-class family should have in spite of limited local assets. All this then sees political leaders begging for foreign investment as the only way to sustain local economies – and the cycle of acquisition, mimicry, and ‘deciding’ on use of goods provided by broader imperialism must self-perpetuate.

F. Conclusion

The harsh influence of the global village on problems of one country has already been uncovered by Mkandawire, et al. (2021) in their careful tracking of the negative impact of globalization on Malawi. They have tracked how structural adjustment policies have affected the social milieu towards creating a fertile environment for the spread of HIV/AIDS. They have compared that with how political bickering and government being perceived to be pining for external resources through attention to Covid-19, created mistrust between government and citizens. In fact, just like the intellectual mapping done in this paper, they ended up timid of a potential perception of a ‘stretch of the argument’ at first impression. They argue:

To cite global connectivity as the driving force behind the spread of a disease in a country that barely registers on the global economic and geopolitical map, seems some-what far-fetched. However, such is the power of globalization that it brings even the poorest and remotest geographic enclaves into the world’s economic, social, cultural orbit… (Mkandariwe et al. 2021: 2).

What I have done through the concept of ‘global socialization precinct’ is to show how this apparently far-fetched connection is actually discernable from everyday maneuvers and decision-making of nations, families and individuals – particularly in choices of provision for and advancement of the youth. The format and substance of provisions, as well as the environment for innovation and advancement are all devoid of civic self-determination and leave a lot to be desired.

While she was analyzing globalization, and spurred by an observation of foreign communities taking over entrepreneurial spaces in full view of locals whose economic ability was stunted, Gillian Hart (2002) used the notion of ‘multiple trajectories’ to expose that globalization is not just an innocent modernizing trend for countries to consume. She argues:

….I want to advance an understanding of multiple trajectories as spatially connected sets of practices – with their associated discourses and power relations – that actively produce and drive the processes we call ‘globalization’. By insisting that we understand the multiplicity of historical geographies not simple as effects of the global flows and processes but as constitutive of them, the concept of multiple trajectories and the method of relational comparison fundamentally disrupt impact models and open the way for more politically enabling understandings and critical practices (Hart, 2014: 14 – emphasis hers).

It is within this framework that during the pandemic, the entire epistemic understanding of ‘health’ and ‘economy’ was yet again thrown into the political tactics of ‘access’ and ‘assistance’ discourse that is predatory over some stakeholders.

The other issue that needs to be confronted is one of the cutting-edge diagnoses of these connections by African intellectuals and Africanists from other parts of the world, but thin influence into the policy-making forums and no influence on drivers of globalization. Somehow analysis seems to be an end in itself, and the whole analytical exercise seems to confine African intellectuals to ‘protest existentialism’ (Sithole 2009) with a little bit of applaud for the diagnosis. This tallies with the manner in which one of the movements of protest against political injustices, the Black Consciousness Movements (BCM, see More 2014) actually stops at ‘waking up the African’ and not pointing at the deeds of the global village in terms of continued ‘beneficiation of the African’ for comforts of some in the globe. BCM conceptualized philosophical tools for the struggle in a specific era. The delay in the rest of global justice practitioners in terms of seeing that the injustices have mutated and modernized with the concept of ‘globalisation’ is the fundamental point of quibble in this article.

G. References

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[1] ‘Digital ethnography’; ‘cyber anthropology’; ‘techno-research’ – were all supposed to be used where relevant in the research design, not as a way to prioritize tools over rounded and grounded research engagement.

[2] But this statement must be dated. It is relevant to the current times of the novelty of the pandemic to all experiencing it. With a benefit of time ‘rising above the situation’ yet again, will be an affordable craft for researchers. The point for now is that we must acknowledge that an analytical design – that is more suspicious and willing to acknowledge omissions, can critically capitalise on the nature of observations affordable – is better than a pretence that traditional research design is relevant is the novelty of dealing with a pandemic.

[3] See also Mbazzi et al. (2021) for similar concerns within the Uganda context…

[4] Nxumalo, S.A. & Edwards, S.D. (2020) ‘On Universalising and Indeginising the Meaning and Practice of Love post COVID-19’ in International Journal of Innovation, Creativity and Change. Special Edition: COVID-19 Life Beyond, Sept 2020.

[5] Local government (municipal) plans are littered with these provisions for the youth.

[6] In an interesting article on involving volunteer youth workers (VYW) to undertake a research project, Brear and Tsotetsi (2021) describe how the youths found the rigid technical prescripts of the University Ethics Committee difficult to follow, including the rather incomprehensible translation of the survey form into their own language, Sesotho. They cite one of them complaining: “‘I didn’t like the Sotho, the way it was written … it was very hard’” (Brear and Tsotetsi 2021: 9).

[7] “Grant squeeze: New Social Relief of Distress Grant regulation puts ‘millions’ at risk of hunger – activists” 24 April 2022 Daily Maverick (Mark Heywood); “The social relief of distress grant – where it began and why the state is still dithering on payments” 27 June 2022 Daily Maverick (Zukiswa Pikoli).

[8] The manner in which Covid-19 discussions were not open to critical engagement was unfortunate. Because the emergence of Covid-19 was unfortunately accompanied by conspiracy speculations, any critical thinking around its cause, management and vaccines as the main intervention was seen in negative light – making science dominance and pharmaceuticals a suspicious duo even to those that can tell the difference between cheap conspiracies and sensible interventions. There were many issues that communicated mixed messages around Covid-19 and vaccines:

  • Local and indigenous public health methods slow, coy and sometimes waning: “SA scientists testing traditional medicine to fight Covid-19 – with promising early results” 21 February 2021 News24 (Zakiyah Ebrahim). This is after the discourse of all other indigenous medicines research fizzled out into thin air
  • Loans and capital wars: “Documents expose to kill Africa’s Covid vaccine project” Common Dreams 10 February 2022 (Jake Johnson); “South Africa gets $750 million loan from World Bank to fight Covid-19” IOL (Siyabonga Mkhwanazi).
  • Class matters – structures of officialdom not displaying accessibility yet making pronouncements based on privileged few: “Two deaths in South Africa after Covid 19 vaccination” Africanews 14 September 2022
  • Silence on continental differential impact of Covid until reluctant admissions: “Breakthrough deaths comprise increasing proportion of those who died from Covid-19” 11 May 2022 ABC News (Arielle Mitropoulos); “Covid-19 death in Africa fall by nearly 94% in 2022 says WHO” IT News (Luis Monzon)
  • Important effects being investigated while vaccine promotion goes ahead: “Show us the documents, organisation against minors receiving Covid-19 vaccine tells SAHPRA” 11 February 2022 News24 (Tebogo Monama); “Covid boosters do not provide protection against Omicron, study finds” 19 January 2022 Fortune – (Antony Sguazzin and Bloomberg); “New study finds organ recipients rejecting transplant after receiving Covid vaccine” 13 September 2022 in WishTV Medical (Dr Mary Gillis); “Study explores new-onset tinnitus after Covid-19 vaccination” 15 September 2022 in (Bhavanna Kunkalikar)
  • Contradictions: “Scientists debate how lethal Covid is. Some say it’s now risky than flu” in Public Health, 16 September 2022 (Rob Stein) VS “‘Blood on your Hands’ if world steps back on tackling Covid-19 now – WHO official” Daily Maverick 26 September 2022 (Reuters)
  • Prominent public figures reserve right of choice: “Novak Djokovic willing to miss tournaments over vaccine” 15 February 2022 BBC News (Amol Rajan); “‘Don’t rape me with a vaccine’ – SACP leader slams forced Covid vaccination” IOL 17 February 2022 (Sihle Mavuso).

[9] The national movement of students rising for access to education through #Fees must Fall. ‘Things falling’ became a slogan of protest by youth for many other issues.

[10] The most interesting group in the social media prayer groups were the nurses, who straddled the ‘medicine terrains’ but took great caution (blinding their identities and sharing anonymous voice notes) as they shared other forms of help, including when during sickness to seek for that help – as nothing much could be done when people were already locked into hospitals.