As coronavirus locks in Africa begin to ease, Open Society Foundations has moved to help southern African countries fill funding gaps in public health, while reaching out to grassroots groups that help informal workers.
The US-based organization provides more than € 3.2 million through the Open Society Foundation for South Africa and the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa.
“Given that the Covid-19 pandemic has gone beyond the health sphere, we work with organizations that provide support in a number of technical areas, including health, education, transparency and accountability, equality and feminism, and human rights organizations in general,” says Cynthia Ngwalo-Lungu, Johannesburg, South Africa-based Health Program Manager at OSF.
The funds go to 11 countries in southern Africa, including Angola, Botswana, Democratic Republic of Congo, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, eSwatini, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
“For example, in Malawi, we have partnered with Malawi Health Equity Network, for health aspects of the pandemic. In Madagascar, we partnered with an organization called Autism Madagascarand at regional level throughout South Africa we have cooperated with South African confidence to look at financial justice issues. It varies from country to country, ”she said.
Demolition of civil liberties
Ngwalo-Lungu says the organization is concerned about the government’s degradation of civil liberties, especially the militarization of the Covid-19 response in places like Zimbabwe and South Africa, where citizens were abused and frightened.
“In the current context, because governments are using the military to enforce lockdown measures, OSF has included [funding] documenting human rights violations for future litigation and being responsible for the perpetrators, she says.
On the other hand, the organization has helped governments procure test kits and oxygen tanks and other issues needed.
“Although we are against some of the things that governments are doing with the downturn, we still see that there is a need for us to support … especially from a public health perspective to ensure that we save lives in this pandemic. “
Support in other Covid-19 numbers
Processing issues related to Covid-19, including lockdowns, are also funded by OSF.
“We have seen an increase in gender-based violence throughout the region and in Swaziland, obviously due to the lock-ups that many women spend time indoors with their addicts,” says Ngwalo-Lungu.
Some of the money goes to women and teams in southern Africa, an eSwatini-based group that helps women in dangerous situations.
Domestic workers and cross-border merchants, such as women buying goods in South Africa for sale in Zimbabwe, have been stunned by the shutdown and unable to support their families.
“We also look at street vendors and market women in general and only look at the economic impact. So we respond from a political perspective, where we look at the economic policies that exist to ensure that the business sectors are stimulated and can start reworking after Covid, explains Ngwalo-Lungu.
Leaves comfort zone
The urgent pandemic forced OSF to work outside their usual comfort zone, says Ngwalo-Lungu. While normally adhering to structural issues and advocacy and affecting policy development and implementation, the organization decided to actually procure desperately needed items directly, such as personal protective equipment (PPE) for healthcare professionals.
“It is incumbent on us to work with organizations and make grants in ways that allow wage earners to have that, resources to continue to push for these political solutions,” OSF President Patrick Gaspard told RFI.
Will OSF return to its strict defense policy after the coronavirus pandemic is over?
“Maybe yes and no. I think we are really looking at a new world order, says Ngwalo-Lungu, adding that the internal five-year strategic plans would come in February, but the deadlines have been extended given the pandemic.
“We look at what’s most relevant in the current context and beyond the current context, and look at the world we’re facing,” she says.
“Based on the deep global economic downturn that we have already seen, it seems clear in Africa that we will work in a Covid economy for several years to come,” said OSF President Gaspard.