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Coronavirus is not a European problem, says Archbishop of Cape Town

20 March 2020

REUTERS

People wearing protective masks shop in a supermarket in Johannesburg, on Monday

People wearing protective masks shop in a supermarket in Johannesburg, on Monday

SOUTH AFRICA, Zimbabwe, and Namibia this week took strict measures, including stopping Europeans from entering, and banning large gatherings (of more than 100 people), to protect their vulnerable populations from the spread of Covid-19. They declared a national “state of disaster” as fears grew that the region’s health services would not be able to cope with a massive outbreak.

“I am desperately worried that the coronavirus is described as a European problem by some of the media. As we know, viruses do not have passports, they don’t know borders, they don’t respect race or colour,” the Archbishop of Cape Town, the Most Revd Thabo Makgoba, said in his sermon on Sunday.

“The virus . . . will affect us in South Africa, because there is also the notion that if there is a pre-existing condition, the virus, the coronavirus, is much more severe. You can imagine in Africa — or let me look at South Africa, in particular, where the scourge or the incidence of TB and HIV and AIDS is high; so when corona[virus] strikes, a lot of people will be affected.”

In neighbouring Zimbabwe, the general secretary of the Zimbabwean Council of Churches (ZCC), the Revd Dr Kenneth Mtata, said that since doctors had gone on strike seven months ago, the health infrastructure had been compromised: “It makes us very vulnerable. If there is an outbreak, we won’t cope.” Sixty per cent of rural health services in Zimbabwe are run by churches.

On Tuesday, three Archbishops of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa — Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, Archbishop Emeritus Njongonkulu Ndungane, and Archbishop Makgoba — issued a joint statement that appealed to people in South Africa to beat the coronavirus by working closely together.

“The virus has no boundaries: it cuts across all communities, rich and poor, in north, south, east, and west. Only mutual love and care for one another will get us through the crisis,” the joint statement said.

Archbishop Makgoba and Dr Mtata both urged people to practise “physical distancing”, not “social distancing”. “In this region, the historical connotation of suspending social contact is negative,” Dr Mtata said, referring to apartheid legislation that kept races apart.

Since President Mugabe was removed in 2017, the ZCC has been mediating to resolve political tensions in the country, and to foster a national dialogue. “Crisis moments are tricky moments: politicians focus on the crisis, and we forget the long-term challenges,” Dr Mtata said. In moments of emergency and disaster, he continued, the possibility of politicians’ hoodwinking people to follow their own interests was very high.

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