Under lockdown, at once there are people who know how to work out exactly what to do under the new circumstances, or how to “trase”, as we say in Kreol. There is no lack of creativity.
So, there is someone in Bambous now, who rides by on a bicycle calling out, “gro gro jamblon” – fruit that he has picked from very high trees in very deep valleys. The insecure job he had before is now replaced by another one.
And there is someone else with a tricycle who, for Rs50, delivers “blue cooking gas” cylinders in the Plaisance-Rose-Hill area. Who knows what he was doing before. Otherwise, how do people without their own vehicle i.e. most people, replace their gas?
Another young man still delivers, by bicycle, bundles of four bagette, each in a paper-bag, for a little fee. With bakeries still closed down, if you want bread, you have to get into the interminable supermarket queue – if it is “your day”, i.e. the first letter of your surname comes up twice a week – so he responds to a real need.
And in Brazil, when the extreme right wing President Bolsonaro says Coronavirus disease is just the “sniffles” (lerim dan nene), it is the drug gangs that are enforcing a lockdown in Rio de Janeiro. They have more organization, under capitalism, than the Municipality, the province or the State itself.
In Cape Town, not only did the two main warring drug gangs come to a truce because of the lockdown, but they are now the ones who have networks the State does not have, for food distribution in the townships. So, in neo-liberal times, the work of the State was so neglected that the only social organization that can pick up the pieces is drug gangs.
All over the world, mid-wives, who had been reduced to doing a few baby home-deliveries, are organizing to meet the new demand. Yes, women are re-thinking home-births as they see hospitals both too busy and maybe too dangerous a place for newborns.
So, there are lots of lessons for us to begin mulling over. How differently the world can so easily be organized. How capable and creative people are. How much people can show care for each other – even the much maligned members of drug gangs of Rio and Cape Town. How easily they make a truce.
People know how to be creative and to “trase”. All we need, is to organize the individual “trase” into a more collective spirit, and we’re away to create a new society.
And then there is “tracing” for “testing” of the Coronavirus, the only way to keep the epidemic at bay.
As the figures for new infections in Mauritius come to a spikey plateau, we realize that it is the traditional Mauritian public health that is helping to save us: tracing-and-testing.
The old skills developed in the days when Mauritius mobilized to eradicate malaria, which had accounted for one-third of all deaths, and kept it eradicated for 70 years by that very method: tracing-and-testing. Dr. Gujadhur explained how the tracers find and personally interview people – just like Sherlock Holmes or Inspecteur Clouseau. Some of the tracing is easy – if someone visited a family member, they own up easily. If they visited a colleague, that’s also no problem. But the skill is to make someone who tests positive, or who may even be very ill, develop enough confidence, and build up enough social conscience really quickly, so as to tell that they went out to the illegal betting shop, that they went to see a mistress or lover, that they went to do something as innocent as buy cigarettes on the black market. It is a very delicate matter, and the best tracers are those who gain peoples’ total confidence in the confidentiality of the tracing. And that the tracing is, in fact, confidential becomes of the essence.
This trace-and-test is what the federal Government is now trying to get up-and-running again in the USA, after it buckled under the sheer bulk of numbers of sick people. If you listen to the CDC (Centre for Disease Control and Prevention – the much under-funded wing of the Federal government) they are now belatedly trying to vamp up trace-and-test teams. “Ideally, that would be as many as 100,000 new contact tracers,” Anita Cicero, deputy director at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security told the press.
But, as the USA is now in panic mode, the Trump Administration having lost some 7 or 8 weeks by denying the epidemic, then blaming China for the virus, the US administration now intends to rely on technology instead of detective brain power, and this poses a new set of problems. Even as private companies like Apple and Microsoft are working on how to control peoples’ movement via their cell-phone GPSs, it dawns on everyone what grotesque new powers the State will have over the people – not just during the epidemic, but as society comes out of it – and what power the tech giant private companies have over society, when they do not even have a figment of an electoral fig-leaf to cover their lack of accountability.
We will come out of this epidemic with huge challenges. They can be summed up in Rosa Luxemburg’s famous phrase: Socialism or barbarie.
for LALIT, a personal view.