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South African Jesuit Cautions against Neglecting Poor, Marginalized amid COVID-19 Crisis

A Society of Jesus (Jesuits) Cleric serving in his native country, South Africa, has, in a reflection on the effects of COVID-19 pandemic, cautioned against neglecting the poor and marginalized.

In the Tuesday, August 25 reflection obtained by ACI Africa, Fr. Rampe Hlobo says, “COVID-19 like many other viruses including HIV that ravaged many poor communities – lest we forget – persistently remind us that as a society and a community, we continue to ignore the scourge of poverty and the poor at our own peril and impairment.”

“In the midst of the struggle against the pandemic of COVID-19, we are all facing the same storm, as one sage put it, but in different boats,” the Jesuit Cleric reflects and adds, “Poverty in the middle of this storm, reminds us that a society that neglects common wellbeing and common good, does that at its own peril.” 

The coronavirus crisis “has brought to light the fact that humanity in general has been turning a blind eye to the sufferings of the poor and marginalized who, during this pandemic of COVID-19 have proven to be the weakest link in the line of defence against this merciless virus,” the native of South Africa’s Soweto township says.

“The war against the rising number of infections can never be won unless we adhere to the recommendations of WHO and health authorities. Staying at home, social distancing, regular washing of hands with soap, regular sanitizing of hands, healthy diet, etc. All of these are beyond reach for the poor, especially the poorest of the poor and yet we are told are the basic defence mechanisms to avoid being infected,” Fr. Hlobo says in his August 25 reflection.

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Referring to South Africa where the government imposed a lockdown in March in a bid to minimize the risk of contagion, the 48-year-old Jesuit says, “The consequences of the economic injustices that drove many poor people to lives of abject poverty were laid bare.”

“Many of the people living in unhealthy informal human settlements could not adhere to the safety recommendations for avoiding COVID-19 infection as they were living in abject poverty that denied them the possibility of practicing what was recommended for their own wellbeing and that of others,” he adds in reference to the lockdown in his country. 

He continues, “Many who have the means to stay at home and practice social distancing, etc. were quick to criticize those marginalized of our society who could not observe the recommendations. Once again, however, poverty is showing us that unjust distribution of resources can be, and is detrimental to the whole society.”

“The challenges of this situation, particularly poverty, are also a reminder to all that we cannot allow the poor, especially the poorest of the poor and their plight to fall off the social justice radar and conversation,” reflects Fr. Hlobo.

As a way forward, the Cleric says that the “unjust socio-economic structures that increase the gap between the poor and the rich should be eliminated and replaced by endeavours that support initiatives like Sustainable Development Goals (SDG #1) that seek to eradicate poverty in all its forms everywhere.” 

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Referencing Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation, Evangeili Gaudium, the South African Jesuit says that “growth in justice should not just be economic growth but more importantly, should be coupled with decisions, programs, mechanisms and processes specifically geared to a better distribution of income, the creation of sources of employment and an integral promotion of the poor which goes beyond a simple welfare mentality.”