Protests rage at poverty and sackings during lockdown

The impacts of the coronavirus pandemic are being sharply felt in many parts of the global south, across Africa, Asia and the Middle East, creating extreme hunger and poverty that have led to significant protests, despite the lockdowns.

Lebanon has seen country-wide protests in response to escalating food prices and poverty. Demonstrators have attacked a number of bank fronts in the northern city of Tripoli, Lebanon’s poorest city, and blocked roads throughout the country.

Activist Nada Nasif said that once people figured out that if things continued as they were, “they were going to die anyway … we decided that we might as well die in the streets from the corona. It is better [than dying of hunger].”

The anti-government movement which began in Lebanon in October against government austerity and corruption has re-emerged. Earlier this year, Lebanon failed to make a $1.2 billion Eurobond payment, with the IMF demanding tough measures in response. Limits have now been placed on withdrawals from bank accounts. Nearly 50 per cent of Lebanon’s population currently live in poverty, with Lebanon’s financial crisis now the worst since the 1975-1990 civil war.

In South Africa, since the lockdown began, residents in poorer areas of Cape Town have been struggling, due to loss of jobs and the forced shutdown of the informal sector where many earn a living.

There are long queues for food in stores as prices escalate. Residents in the township of Mitchells Plain have protested, and residents from the Booysens squatters’ camp have blocked off streets, as many have not received the food parcels promised since the lockdown began.

In April in Bangladesh, thousands of garment workers took to the streets against unpaid wages, as some factories have already closed their doors due to a reduction in orders. Workers chanted “we want our wages”. One protester, Brishti, from a factory in the Dhaka said: “If we don’t have food in our stomach, what’s the use of observing this lockdown?

Here in Australia, it has been shown that safe, socially distant protest action, with people separated in their own cars or bikes, is completely possible. However, in Melbourne and Brisbane, refugee rights protests and car convoys observing social distancing have been become political targets of police repression under guise of enforcing the health rules.

As long as public protest remains necessary, lockdown laws should not be used to curtail the right to safely protest and demonstrate.

By Pan Karanikolas


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