The Spanish cartoon spreading misinformation about the Covid variant omicron exposed something else in its portrayal of how South Africans are perceived in certain quarters.
The Daily Maverick said the image was reminiscent of classical colonialist depictions of Africans, with swollen lips, etc.
Open that door a little wider. Some who have seen the image may recognise traces of golliwogs and Bongo Bongo Land.
Although there has been an apology, I haven’t seen one which walks away from the dated stereotyping. Such negative portrayals, which mock Africans as stupid, add to irrational fears about omicron.
Yet stupidity arguably marks the western response to omicron. The variant didn’t originate in SA or Botswana.
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A statement last month by Botswana health authorities said the virus had been detected on four foreign nationals who entered on a diplomatic mission.
There is now a list of countries where Omicron was present before South African scientists raised the alarm.
Few would argue that vaccination offers full protection against all Covid variants but we are told that omicron symptoms are mild for those who have taken jabs.
So what is the logic? According to CNN’s Fareed Zakaria, writing in the Washington Post, Europe (70%) and the US (60%), have far higher vaccination rates than poor countries (8%). Richer nations are therefore supposedly better protected.
Still, they want to limit contact with African countries. Statistics and record-keeping across the globe cannot always be taken at face value but, according to the BBC, Covid infection and death rates in the UK and US are higher than in South Africa.
And these countries want to keep us out?
These nations have also been less than generous in sharing vaccines, despite lofty commitments. Zakaria says the rich world is hoarding vaccines at the expense of the poor.
“By the end of September this year, the rich countries of the world – United States, European Union, United Kingdom, Canada and China – were estimated to have a surplus of about 670 million doses of vaccines, according to the health data company Airfinity.
“And this is accounting for every person over 12 in these countries being fully vaccinated plus receiving a booster.”
He adds that rich countries have been stingy about actually making donations.
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“The United States pledged the most – 1.2 billion doses – but so far has delivered just around 280 million. The European Union, Iceland and Norway have collectively pledged about 500 million doses and delivered about 112 million. China has recently increased its pledge to 850 million doses, up from 100 million, and has deliveredabout 89 million.”
The International Monetary Fund has reportedly calculated that vaccinating everyone by 2022 would cost $50 billion, and failure to do so could cost $9 trillion by 2025.
By that logic, being miserly about sharing vaccinations is penny wise, pound foolish. Perhaps generosity is restrained by the unspoken perception among the wealthy that Africans are lesser beings, like a Spanish cartoonist’s stereotype?