In this introduction, the cases of India, South Africa, and Brazil are connected. The contributions from these countries, in different ways, discuss the dramatic moral impacts of government approaches to the pandemic. The three countries are part of the BRICS platform, in which Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa participate. With 40 percent of the world's population, the BRICS platform concerns a substantial part of the world. The principles of the platform and its mutual “economic, political, cultural an environmental philosophy” are summarized by Marco Ricceri (2019). The members support the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGS), and they will contribute to the quality of global development. At the 13th BRICS Summit in September 2021, the New Delhi Declaration was presented (BRICS 2021). This declaration conveys a thorough normative mission statement. It therefore renders an interesting common frame of reference from which to analyze and judge the contributions from the three countries, as well as from China and Russia. The Declaration, among other things, states:
We emphasize that the international community has a collective responsibility to work together against the COVID-19 pandemic in the true spirit of partnership within existing international frameworks, including the WHO. We note that the cooperation on the study of origins of the SARS-COV-2 is an important aspect of the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. (BRICS 2021: 2)
In the light of what happened in the three countries, it is relevant to quote a section of the Declaration that emphasizes the connection of this pandemic to efforts to rescue the overall sustainability on human life on earth:
We reaffirm our commitment to the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in its three dimensions [sic]—economic, social and environmental. We note with concern that the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted efforts to achieve the 2030 Agenda and reversed years of progress on poverty, hunger, health care, education, climate change, access to clean water, and environment protection. While the virus has impacted everyone, it is affecting the world's poorest and most vulnerable the most. We, therefore, call upon the international community to foster global development partnerships to address the impact of the pandemic and to accelerate the implementation of 2030 Agenda by advancing the Means of Implementation, while giving special attention to the needs of developing countries. (BRICS 2021: 6)
What do the three case studies of Part II have to say about the moral content of this Declaration? As is the case with the case studies in Part I, in this part the analysis of processes in the sociopolitical and legal dimension serves as a starting point to explore its impacts in the other dimensions. In doing so, the dramatic impact on particular segments of the populations is conceived as “necropolitics.” This concept is explicitly explained and deployed in the Brazil case study. In the case studies of India and South Africa, phenomena closely related to necropolitics are likewise exposed. Necropolitics refers to politics impacting the death of disadvantaged peoples at the bottom of society: policies implemented and decisions made mostly by elites in order to attain particular goals. It concerns a political practice related to a particular governance culture: political power relations and strategies that were established in the colonial era. Examples include British rule in India; the so-called “apartheid regime” based on British and Dutch dominance (“apartheid” is a Dutch word) in South Africa; and Portuguese colonial rule in Brazil.
In India, the focus is placed on dramatically unequal access to good healthcare, leading to innumerable deaths. After liberation from British rule, the colonial divides in the healthcare system were taken over and even tightened up. An incalculable amount of people living at the bottom of society in urban and rural circumstances became the helpless victims of the COVID-19 pandemic. For the elites, living in big cities, sufficient care mainly provided through private health services remained available. The vulnerable became more vulnerable; they were unseen and forgotten.
In the case of South Africa, the focus is placed on the dramatic socioeconomic and financial and sociocultural and welfare divides. After the so-called “end of apartheid,” the colonial patterns to a large extent remained intact. The elites have changed from powerful whites into powerful blacks and whites. Since the political upheaval, the socioeconomic and financial and sociocultural and welfare conditions at the bottom of South African society have been seriously exacerbated. Apartheid remained, though it was covert and no longer official. Like in India, ingrained societal patterns and the inabilities of the state to properly cope with the pandemic caused much suffering and deaths—in particular among blacks at the bottom. The dramatic outcomes were seriously aggravated by the inhumanity of poor living and housing conditions. Necropolitics thus implicitly found its way into South Africa. The pandemic has exacerbated existing development crises, and this was expressed in gross inequalities (Maringira 020).
In Brazil, the current federal government's necropolitics has now become explicit and formal. The ruling of a recent investigation by the Senate into the government's practices states that the politics of the government caused thousands of unnecessary deaths (Barbara 2021). In the case study of the Amazon, necropolitics is exposed as a political instrument to expel indigenous people from their land in order to create space for the expansion of agro-industry. The profits are to be enjoyed by the Brazilian economic and financial elites. The destruction of huge parts of the Amazon, a crucial global component of CO2 containment, biodiversity, and ecological equilibrium, is just part of the game (Carvalho 2020). The necropolitical instrument was meant to withhold from indigenous peoples the facilities, medicines, and vaccines they needed in order to be able to cope with COVID-19. In Brazil, one can see the dynamic interrelationships between the sociopolitical and legal, socioeconomic and financial, sociocultural and welfare, and socioenvironmental and ecological dimensions. In their study about the parallels between COVID-19 and climate change as expressed in the megacity of São Paulo, Andrea Ferraz Young and Tek Maraseni conclude:
COVID-19 deaths were clustered on the south and east sides of São Palo, which are predominantly occupied by Afro-Brazilians. Coincidentally, these are the regions most affected by heavy rains, pollution and drought events. … Both climate change and the pandemic underscore a fundamental aspect about urban vulnerability that poor communities have known and felt for all too long. (Young and Maraseni 2021)
Paolo Motta (2020) endorses these conclusions. He argues that the contemporary uncontrolled urbanization processes and the increase in the number of slums and favelas (18 percent of the world's population soon will live in conditions prevalent in these “informal settlements”) will invalidate strategies to cope with COVID-19 and future pandemics.
In these three case studies, particular emphasis has been placed on the moral impact of government action. In the case of India, widespread corruption, normalized in a thoroughly segmented healthcare system, could no longer be ignored. In order to advance the social quality framework, the authors examine the corruption during the pandemic from moral perspectives. They in particular deploy the theory of the moral foundation of politics, referring to its six principles. The exposed societal impact of COVID-19 on daily life is confronted with these moral principles. The emerging normative understanding of the events of the pandemic is related with suppositions about the normative factors of social quality.
In the case of South Africa, in addition to social quality theory (SQT), the work of South African political theory luminaries are deployed in the moral exploration of the societal impact on people. These scholars discuss the vulnerable transition of economic and political systems and the implications of not addressing the working class's socioeconomic, sociopolitical, and sociocultural needs.
These perspectives concern the heart of the matter of judging the moral impact of the pandemic in the sociopolitical and legal dimension. Combining them with aspects of SQT and the social quality approach (SQA) will deepen our understanding of the societal processes in this dimension.
Barbara, V. 2021. “We Knew Bolsonaro Was Guilty: Now We Have 1,299 Pages of Proof.” New York Times, 28 October. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/10/28/opinion/bolsonaro-brazil-report.html.
BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa). 2021. BRICS Joint Statement on Strengthening and Reforming the Multilateral System. 1 June. http://www.brics.utoronto.ca/docs/210601-foreign.html.
Carvalho, B., 2020. “The Amazon Will Soon Burn Again.” New York Times International Edition, 27 May. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/05/27/opinion/amazon-bolsonaro-deforestation.html.
Maringira, G. 2020. “Social Distancing and Lockdown in Black Townships in South Africa.” Kujenga Amani, 7 May. https://kujenga-amani.ssrc.org/2020/05/07/covid-19-social-distancing-and-lockdown-in-black-townships-in-south-africa.
Motta, P. 2020. “Urbanization and Sustainability after COVID-19 Pandemic.” International Journal of Social Quality 10 (1), 1–29. doi:10.3167/IJSQ.2020.100102.
Ricceri, M. 2019. “The Contributions of BRICS to the Quality of Global Development.” International Journal of Social Quality 9 (1): 1–32. doi:10.3167/IJSQ.2019.090102.
Young, A. F., and T. Maraseni. 2021. The Parallels between Covid-19 and Climate Change in Brazil: The Challenges of Sao Paulo City. São Paulo: São Paulo Research Foundation.