Maverick Citizen


South Africa readies and steadies itself for three-week lockdown

A man tries to sell ‘The Big Issue’ magazine in Cape Town on Thursday 21 March amid heavy traffic as shoppers head to and from stores before the national lockdown. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Nic Bothma)

Things changed overnight in South Africa on 15 March, and it won’t be the last time it does. Daily Maverick’s Daily Digest will provide the essential bits of information about Covid-19 in South Africa and the world each day. Please do read on to understand these issues more deeply.

The Free State provincial health department has managed to trace and test hundreds of people who attended a mass church gathering earlier this month where it was later confirmed that there had been three attendees who had Covid-19. The congregants came from three different churches and each church has scaled up testing.

The Free State has asked retired nurses to return to service, enlisted three hospitals to take Covid-19 patients and identified three resorts as quarantine sites.

As Ferial Haffajee writes, the province is racing to stop a possible cluster infection.

One attendee who has since been confirmed to have Covid-19 is evangelical preacher Angus Buchan. He is, however, not displaying symptoms.

ACDP leader Kenneth Meshoe also attended the gathering and later met with political party leaders and President Cyril Ramaphosa. Ramaphosa tested negative for the virus on 26 March.

Countrywide testing capabilities have been strengthened by the addition of three new National Health Laboratory Services (NHLS) labs coming on board next month. The NHLS has deployed six mobile labs and awaits test kits from the US by April.

If you haven’t had a chance to catch up with all the ministerial briefings, fear not, Rebecca Davis has you covered.

Quarantine sites have been identified – 52 with 16,373 beds, according to Public Works Minister Patricia de Lille. More than 20,000 people will be distributing disinfectants.

Plans are being made to help artists during this time, such as providing support to those working on already government-funded projects, and royalties might be paid to musicians early. There might be some live-streamed performances and the SABC will be giving priority to local content.

Other plans to keep people connected include increasing bandwidth and banning data price increases. SABC and DStv are hosting “virtual classrooms” and broadcasting Easter Sunday services.

Yes, journalists can continue with their work. They are considered essential services, together with those involved in broadcasting and distribution.

All shopping malls, bus depots, train stations, airports, parks, beaches, swimming pools, restaurants, hotels, open-air markets and religious, cultural, sporting and entertainment venues will be closed.

However, funerals with less than 50 mourners can go ahead.

Home Affairs will be open but only to issue temporary IDs and replace lost birth certificates and death certificates.

The sale of alcohol, and most likely cigarettes, will not be permitted.

No, you cannot leave the house to jog around the block or walk the dog.

There are many more details which have been announced. See part three and part four of Davis’s explainer series.

President Cyril Ramaphosa arrives at Diepkloof Army Base in Johannesburg to address soldiers prior to their deployment on Thursday 26 March. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Kim Ludbrook)
Members of the South African National Defence Force deploy in Johannesburg hours before the 21-day national lockdown on Thursday 26 March. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Kim Ludbrook)

To adhere to the new regulations, mines have effectively come to a standstill, bar those supplying coal to Eskom. Ed Stoddard looked into how mines plan to navigate the lockdown.

Taxis are also experiencing a lockdown, but only partially. They are only available to transport essential service workers between 5am and 9am, and 4pm and 8pm. These restrictions also apply to e-hailing services such as Uber and Bolt, according to Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula on 26 March. Buses will also operate under these conditions. In addition, all flights and trains have been suspended. Suné Payne outlines the other restrictions on transport.

Despite promises of water for all, residents in Khayelitsha still did not have water in their taps on the eve of the lockdown despite numerous protests to have the supply reconnected. Resident Qaba Mbola told Sandisiwe Shoba: “The City has already condemned us to death by closing our taps during the coronavirus”.

A group of 40 residents picketed outside the Cape Town Civic Centre yesterday and demanded that the City of Cape Town immediately provide emergency water supplies to informal settlements. They say that they have been waiting since 2017, and that even now the City isn’t taking the issue of water access seriously.

Informal traders made the most of Thursday before having to pack up shop to make way for the lockdown. Most who spoke to Ashraf Hendricks in Cape Town said they don’t have savings to draw on in the next three weeks while they wait for the government to fasten the “safety net” they have promised for those in the informal sector. 

Virgin Active personal trainers were almost left in the lurch until they started a petition which gathered more than 680 signatures. The gym franchise has frozen all gym memberships, but had planned to carry on charging personal trainers rent during the lockdown. On hearing of the petition, Virgin Active changed its tune and created an app for personal trainers to use free of charge to offer their clients virtual workouts. Zukiswa Pikoli followed up.

Meanwhile, a Cape Town-based digital marketing agency created at least 33 Facebook groups over the past three months which played on people’s fears and anxieties about the Covid-19 pandemic to build an audience. They marketed non-medical masks, called AppleBerry, to members of these groups. Jean le Roux and Tessa Knight from the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab investigated.

In the final hours before the lockdown, the Young Maverick writers took a (solitary) walk through their neighbourhoods in Johannesburg and Cape Town to monitor what was happening and breathe in the atmosphere. This is the first part of a series they will be running throughout the lockdown.

Little attention has been paid to mental healthcare in the ministerial briefings. When asked, the National Department of Social Development said it would be providing trauma debriefing and trauma counselling to those infected and affected by the virus and those in quarantine.


You can log in to the “Ask the Doctor” chat today from 1pm-2pm and 7pm-8pm to ask questions about mental health on the Facebook page of the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (Sadag). There are a number of other channels of support, listed here.

As Julia Chaskalson writes: “To give meaning to President Ramaphosa’s plea for social solidarity, support for mental health is critical. Social solidarity means countering stigma against those who are ill – either with Covid-19, or with chronic mental health conditions – and upholding human dignity and humanity for all.” DM


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