The role of the South African Civil Society during and after COVID-19 pendamic

The role of the South African Civil Society during and after COVID-19 pendamic

Letlhogonolo Maimane

Executive Director


It will be an inchoate intellectual exercise to commence this article without appreciating the current efforts undertaken by the government through the National Command Council under the stewardship of our President, His Excellency Matamela Cyril Ramaphosa. On the 26th of March 2020, HE Cyril Ramaphosa declared a National State of Disaster which resulted in a nationwide lockdown, governed by various regulations under the Disaster Management Act. On the 9th of April 2020, President Ramaphosa further extended the lockdown by two additional weeks.

As Kwetso Foundation, we welcome this decision as it is informed by what is in the best interest of South Africans and their foreseeable future.


On the 11th of March 2020, the World Health Organisation declared COVID-19 a pandemic. This came after the rising cases of COVID-19 infections and related deaths in Asia and Western parts of the world. This immediately sent a shockwave across the world as an unprecedented illness; fitting the description of a phantom inspired tale; took over media headlines, intellectual discourse and ordinary conversations.

Owing to how the world has become closely connected through trade, diplomacy, co-operation and collaboration and cultural exchange, the novel ‘coronavirus’ travelled to different parts of the world, to seek refuge and fundamentally disrupt the way of living.

The virus has left mankind with so many questions that still remain unanswered. In a fictional character; Molefi Monaisa; affectionately known as ‘Wallet’ on the popular TV show; Skeem Saam; asks “What have we done to offend the heavens?” This daunting question continues to whisper in the corridors of both the rich and the poor, the ruling class and the working class and diverse cultures.

The world should, however, not be captured by schizophrenia. The virus has simultaneously proven to be lethal and that it can be defeated. This is a symbology of its weakness and our collective strength against it. The virus has sent nation states into lockdown in order to flatten the spread of the virus. This progressive move by different governments has shown commitment towards humanity and its livelihood.

However, the fight against the novel corona virus should not be relegated to a government responsibility alone. The fight against the virus is centered around an individuals’ commitment towards humanity and his or her own livelihood. This immediately calls for civil society to be proactive and forward-looking, instead of reactionary and being caught in the nightmare of the present day.

The role of civil society should be twofold. Firstly, the role of the civil society in the current epoch and secondly,its role post the COVID-19 pandemic. By civil society, we are referring to; but not limited to; Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs), Non-Profitable Organisations (NPOs), Faith Based Organisations (FBOs), and citizens.

This article will deal with both aspects with the ambition of depicting an image of how to ensure a just transition from the current challenges to life after the COVID-19 pandemic. What should capture our minds in the present is an imagination about the future. Thaton its own gives us ample reasons to fight.


The role of civil society in the present, appears to be merely simplistic, but becomes complex when a microscopic view is given to it. South Africa is a country that thrives on the divide of the rich and the poor, which further translates into disparity in access to education, food, health and ;to a large extent; information. The role of civil society; owing to the South African landscape; thus requires a scientific perspective to it.


In gearing up to fight the pandemic, civil society should in the present, be able to assist communities to access authentic and relevant information, more especially communities in remote villages, townships and informal settlements. This will foster communities a better chance against the virus whileconsequently flattening the curve of the COVID-19 spread. Information that is authentic and uniform across the boardtranslates into a uniformly informed community.

The complex nature of the socio-economic landscape demands that media be used to disseminate information. Media ought to be accessible to the poor and vulnerable groups. As such, print media and radio will be resourceful to reach such an audience.

However, since the advent of the third industrial revolution, communication has become digitally intensive.Civil society should also use this platform,to relay authentic and relevant information on COVID-19 to the public. This can be through social media platforms, websites, television adverts and many other spaces. Even though social media platforms are easily manipulated, the role of the civil society then becomes to expose this malicious and diabolical conduct and hold perpetrators to account.


In addition to this role, the civil society should raise awareness about the virus, as part of their responsibility towards health. Except the already existing initiatives by the government, civil society should lobby all sectors of the society to support the fight against this virus,through financial resources and other means. The socio-economic landscape of South Africa requires the civil society to intensify their contributions towards the social welfare of the poor and vulnerable groups. These programmes should, however, be consistent with the efforts of poverty alleviation. Programmes like subsistence crop and livestock farming should therefore be supported.


In the main,the civil society has the role to ensure that society abides by the published regulations and to report any act transgressing these regulations to the relevant law enforcement bodies. This responsibility is crucial in moments of such a great crisis that we currently experience. Abiding by the law can be nexus between a person’s chance of living and dying.The law is meant to protect all citizens. Any person who seeks to undermine the law should be sanctioned for contravention.

Civil society must also act as a government watchdogduring these times. This responsibility requires civil society to play an oversight role and report any form of corruption. In moments of such a great crisis, opportunists will attempt to manipulate procurement processes and legislative frameworks, in order to gain access to enrich themselves. As such, civil society must ensure that there is transparency and accountability to ensure effective and efficient rendering of services during this trying time.


Post the pandemic;the civil society will be tasked with ensuring that there is extensive monitoring and evaluation of good hygiene in vulnerable communities susceptible to the virus. Additionally, civil society has the responsibility to deepen the research on bio-security, which will include the mobilization of resources and building an infrastructure capable of withstanding a similar outbreak in the future. Owing to the already dilapidating and overwhelmed health infrastructure in South Africa, civil society has an important role of ensuring that preventative measures are effective to thwart the possibility of a collapsing healthcare system.

Civil society’s role extends beyond the course of this pandemic. Civil society has an important role to play post the pandemic; which will be explained below. The most important role is to ensure that all efforts made during the pandemic, are carried out further post the moments of uncertainty. This is to ensure that our country is sufficiently poised, to effectively deal with whatever outbreak that may potentially hit South Africa in the future.


Civil society;post the pandemic; ought to have in place, measures of monitoring and evaluating policies and strategies presented by the government.The monitoring and evaluation of policies and strategies put in place by government will give effect to the intended purpose of the policies. This will also serve as an accountability mechanism to strengthen portfolio of evidence on the effectiveness of regulations. This also enables the civil society to identify what is effective and what is not effective, in order to make a determination of what strategy had an impact.


The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed South Africa’s bio-security. This calls for extensive further research in the field of bio-security to ensure that infrastructure that is able to withstand such incidents in the future, is constructed.

Civil society should engage in further research in collaboration with institutions of higher learning in order to expand the knowledge of production in relation to bio-security. Further research will improve disciplines such as natural sciences, economics, law and engineering.


The pandemic will; without stating the obvious; present an opportunity of new technological advances which will inspire innovation. Civil society should use this opportunity to create innovation hubs and centres that will enable entrepreneurship and technological enterprise. The expansion in research will open new markets. Hence,the civil society should ensure that these advances are accessible to diverse poor communities, both for consumption and economic opportunities.


Civil society should; at the centre of its efforts; post the pandemic; recall the social compact of South Africa. Whatever efforts civil society gauges, they should be informed by the desire to transform the socio-economic landscape of South Africa and build a better South Africa for all.


These roles by the civil society are sacrosanct in our collective ambition of flattening the virus and will only materialize if at the heart of our efforts lies patriotism. Let us in the midst of all the challenges confronting us as a country, stand together and fight the virus until it meets its ultimate end.

Let us; in the spirit of ubuntu; share with the vulnerable and poor communities and let us practice good hygiene. In a song written by Sam Cooke released in 1963; the American singer sings with much optimism that “A Change Is Gonna Come”.

If the civil society neglects its role of being an active agent in the present challenges, then the efforts of the government will be in vain and the virus will gain strength one cough or sneeze at a time

May God and the African Gods be with South Africa and her people.