COVID-19 fears are a breeding ground for intolerance

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Tyla Dallas, new legal researcher at Cape SAJBD

The Cape SAJBD welcomes our new legal researcher, Tyla Dallas to the team. She recently completed her postgraduate LLB degree, and in her internship she hopes to gain experience in the legal field and NGO space.

The preamble to our constitution promises equality and unity for all South Africans, whilst Section 9 prohibits unfair discrimination based on — inter alia — race, religion and ethnicity. It mirrors the position of the international community, as expressed in instruments such as the International Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination.

As we globally adjust to our new state of normality under this 21-day lockdown, let us not forget the reason we have national and international legislative instruments promoting equality and freedom for all, whilst simultaneously prohibiting intolerance and discrimination.

Whether we look at the gross human atrocities committed in Germany under the Nationalist Socialist regime, or those committed in South Africa under the Apartheid rule of law, we can see that discrimination manifests itself in different ways at different times.

Now, collectively, there is a fear consuming us. Fear for our families, our businesses and our futures. Fear for our country, for all the healthcare workers on the frontline and for what will become of our increasingly vulnerable public healthcare system.

Fear is too often a breeding ground for intolerance, as people desperately find someone or something to blame. The Holocaust and Apartheid regime are only two events that demonstrate just how far racism, discrimination and intolerance can go.

Our collective experience as members of a group historically persecuted because of our religion, race and ethnicity must sensitise us to those who suffer inequalities and intolerance today.
Whilst some, such as President Donald Trump, may refer to the Coronavirus as “the Chinese virus”, and others classify it as a “white man’s disease”, we must be mindful not to associate this global pandemic with one specific race or ethnicity. This rhetoric left unmanaged, will perpetuate a stigma that may instigate violent acts of discrimination — as currently seen in the US towards members of the Asian-American community.

Instead of laying blame to an ethnic group or race, let us recognise that this is a global fight. This is a time to band together, to pray and to be considerate. While we are told to ‘not shake hands’ and ‘stay one metre away from others’, do not forget unity and compassion. While we are told to ‘stay inside our homes’ and practice ‘social distancing’, do not stop caring about your community.
As Nelson Mandela said, “May your choices reflect your hopes, (and) not your fears.”

I hope that when we do overcome this virus, and we start to integrate into our community once more, that we remember our past to promote a truly united and democratic South Africa that ‘belongs to all who live in it.’

Stay safe, stay healthy and be kind to one another.

By Tyla Dallas (Legal Researcher at Cape SAJBD)

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