Notes from the Lockdown

This post by Mary Murphy is the third part of a three part series

“I can never be a global citizen that’s for rich people who travel.  I will never go anywhere outside of Cape Town” (Respondent cites a learner from Kuils River during CW2GC research interview, November 2019).

There are many ills attributable to travel, not least environmental degradation, but none more poignant than COVID-19.  “Just as the bubonic plague bacteria spread across the ancient silk roads to reach Europe, the coronavirus was carried from Wuhan across the globe in Boeing 747s and cruise liners.”

I arrived in South Africa to gather data for CW2GC on 15 March 2020 on one of those Boeings.  Although our planned face-to-face approach to data collection has been halted during the South African Lockdown, connection, conversation, and study continue enabled by Zoom and. WhatsApp. Initially, Elsa and I were concerned as we considered the ethnographic implications.  Surprisingly, despite digitally mediated interviews, relatedness has apparently increased by proximity to our respondents.  The fact that I am only a few, as opposed to thousands of, kilometers away seems to diminish distance, and deepen connection during conversations about hydro-sociological, sustainability, citizenship, and education concepts and practice.  As one young Xhosa man stated:

“Talking to you knowing that you are here is different than if you were that side [UK].  It feels more natural that you are here. When you are speaking from here you feel that connection [more] than you would with people who are calling from overseas”

Intuitively this relatedness makes sense, there is togetherness engendered by the pandemic in a shared geopolitical context. It is also. likely that some of the connection is attributed to how I communicate from a sense of personal and political attachment to South Africa. My. 25-year residency does not go unnoticed in me; the theoretical. groundings and methodological tools act as a counterpoint to our ethnographic and reflexive explorations.

Not all respondents have been asked if they share this sense of a digitised-local connection, but there seems to be enough to flag it as a point of interest in our ethnographic research. What is clear is that the Lockdown is not shared in the same way for all those living in South Africa, no matter how our geography defines us.  A conversation with a friend about the Education-Digital-Divide highlights the stark reality of how this particular crisis sharpens and heightens deeply embedded inequalities and divisions.  Most of the cartoons and videos aimed at levitating us from the boundaries circulating the affluent containment to which I am confined bemoan the desperation induced by the alcohol ban, the disconnect from nature and the ghastly management of the pandemic by the Trump administration. In contrast, depictions of the pandemic’s impacts that circulate in townships mirror the continued social divide, with an image of a shweshwe clad mother holding an empty bucket stuck within a door frame by screaming police.  Presented with an impossible option between the hungry screams of her children and the bugled screams of the state, it is hard not to feel her despair. Empathy fails to feed. It is already clear that another pandemic will soon follow this virus: starvation and hunger. I do feel connected to those I am researching with and perhaps it’s my connection from within that binds us together; in the coming weeks and months I will deepen reflexive engagement about our ethnography. For now, our focus has been forced outward into global and globalised thinking.

One of the questions we are exploring in our research in rural Kwa Zulu Natal, SA, the urban edges of Cape Town, SA, and in and around the city of London, UK, is the notion of Global Citizenship (GC). I have been struck by how many respondents in South Africa derisively reject even the notion of a global community, let alone being part of an active global citizenry. One young person felt it was degrading because it was “assigning labels to keep people in a box”. Others aimed their focus at the imbued hegemony of the global system:

“How can it be one global community when other countries get more than others, and we’re not all equal. So I see it as unfair: not everyone can travel, not everyone knows what’s going on on the other side of the world. And our third world countries and the less fortunate countries those are the ones that suffer… I will point fingers at like the other countries, America and China … We’re a Third World country, I mean half of our country is in poverty so how can you be thinking about Climate Change when you can’t even think about putting food on the table”

Both responses indicate strong feelings about GC even though there was no clear discussion or shared understanding of how it is defined. There is evidence, albeit limited at this stage of the research, that there is. a powerful sense of global mindedness and global justice among the youth. we are engaging with.  Why then is there an apparent rejection of an. embodied sense of global citizenship?  If I was to try and fit the response examples into Oxley’s and Morris’ Global Citizenship typology, they would hit with a resonating ping in Critical Global Citizenship.

But I am still tentative and hesitant about my own feelings about the. usefulness of the term. I am caught between a paradoxical view of. globalisation as both impediment and opportunity for justice, and between citizenship as an imposed position and a recognition of belonging to an interdependent community.  I stagger and sway between an existential need to keep my eyes roving on the global platform, in an anxious noxious state of watchfulness.  I have to be a global citizen,  otherwise, I might fail to act on the world that acts upon me and my. community:  the far-flung web of friends that inhabit the many nooks and crannies of this earth.

On Thursday 7 May 2020 in a webinar, Dirk Van Damme suggests that there is a backlash against globalisation with evidence that ‘part of the political spectrum’ rejects the global. agenda. He cites the eroding effect of Brexit on the EU; what he sees as a significant. reduction in political trust and a lack of support for a common shared agenda during the COVID-19 pandemic; as well as SDG progress in real jeopardy as confirmation of his. assertion.

But there is also evidence that there is a strengthening of other existing federations of states like SADCC, ASEAN, the MAGHREB UNION, and OECD that are demonstrating a commitment to a shared collective agenda.  In addition, the activities of. FridaysforFutures and Extinction Rebellion seem to signify growth in direct politics, where communities of global citizens are working on agendas that transcend party politics and nation-states. These present more thoughts and debates to explore
as we move deeper into our research.

As I sit under the mottled green of a tree with singing birds, I am hit by the realisation that I have asked the same question of others innumerably: what does it mean to be a global citizen? And yet it has taken me a long time to revisit my own shifting sense of global citizenship.  From awakening and awareness studying ‘Peace’ in Northern Ireland through to environmental entrepreneur, activist, and educator in South Africa.  How is anyone supposed to Think Global and Act Local, how can anyone manage to pull off that global pact?  I am glad my ramblings are bounded by this blog.  For another short time, I can pause my global reflections and revisit some of the more familiar works by Ulrich Beck, Anthony Giddens, and Paolo Freire that ignited some of my early thoughts.

It is a privilege to be able to think, to reflect, to savour my educational resources. As I close my notes reflecting on the position of millions of South Africans enduring this Lockdown in appalling localised economic isolation, I realise that citizenship at all levels has many nuanced layers that are entangled in the depths of justice.