Why South Africa’s Townships Are More Worried About Police Brutality Than Coronavirus

Since the lockdown began last week, images of police and army brutality have been circulating on social media.
April 6, 2020, 2:33pm

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When South African President Cyril Rhamaphosa announced a three-week lockdown at the end of March, he acknowledged that his country is particularly vulnerable to COVID-19.

But since the lockdown began, images of police and army brutality have been circulating on social media. That worries Pamela Mala, who lives in a shack in Khayelitsha, a township of 400,000 people outside Cape Town, more than catching the virus.

“We are not afraid of corona. We are afraid of the soldiers around us," she said.

About a quarter of South Africans live in townships in cramped, unsanitary conditions, rife with health problems. HIV is more prevalent there than in the rest of the population, and in some communities, rates of TB are as high as 80%. In communities like Khayelitsha, the lack of trust in the authorities can make enforcing a lockdown more difficult.

Mala, who's lived in Khayelitsha for almost two decades, was diagnosed with HIV in 2002 and then TB in 2008. The first case of coronavirus was confirmed there last week.

“People get sick, people are dying," she said. “I can't change Khayelitsha, the way it is.”