The South African government says it will relocate people living in temporary shelters amid fears that an outbreak of Covid-19 would prove uncontrollable in overpopulated shanty towns.
StatsSA, the South African statistics bureau, estimates that over 5.5 million people, dominantly black South Africans and immigrants, still live in shacks, either in urban areas or squatter camps.
Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation Minister Lindiwe Sisulu said that as the country prepares for a national lockdown which kicks on Thursday at midnight, 29 informal settlements in Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal, Eastern Cape and Western Cape would be affected.
The government has identified land in the four provinces where people removed from informal settlements would be moved to “as a matter of urgency”.
She said “there would be difficulties in providing health and emergency services to the congested areas should a large number of people contract the virus” which has infected a confirmed 702 people in South Africa.
She added that the congested informal settlements have already been identified as areas that could hamper the fight against the pandemic.
Ms Sisulu said it would almost be impossible to assist people should the virus spread to communities in the identified informal settlements.
“And when you look at the density of our people and the fact that our emergency laws indicate that you cannot have 100 in a room, imagine what our informal settlements are and these are among the poorest of the poor with no possibility of getting out of that situation,” she said.
The government still has to persuade people to take the option of leaving their homes temporarily.
Ms Sisulu said they ideally would want to complete the task within the 21-day national lockdown period, but are weary of committing to the timeline.
She said should communities warm up to the idea, the removals will start with the elderly.