South Africa is widely considered the most “developed” nation on the African continent, with a more industrialized and diversified economy than any other country. However, in 2019 the World Bank declared South Africa to be the most economically unequal country on earth. Twenty-six years after apartheid was dismantled, this wealthy and resource-rich nation of 57 million people is still grappling with deep inequality and poverty. The country is also contending with the highest number of confirmed Covid-19 cases in Africa, with over 4,793 confirmed cases and 90 deaths as of April 28, 2020. While these numbers are concerning, casualties were widely expected to be far higher by the end of April.
South Africa has benefited from its decades-long experience dealing with HIV and tuberculosis. Based on this, the government acted aggressively and early during the Covid-19 outbreak. A major focus on widespread testing, one of the highest rates per capita in the world, combined with public temperature checks and draconian lockdown enforcement measures in “at-risk” areas, appears to have paid off for the time being. But, there are concerns about another surge in the near future, as well as the effects of the repressive and violent tactics utilized by the police and military who have been deployed to the townships and other marginalized regions.
Nevertheless, the health and wellbeing of South Africa’s population, along with that of its democracy, will undoubtedly face daunting challenges for the remainder of this unprecedented global crisis.