CORONAVIRUS

Khayelitsha and Mitchells Plain residents speak of fears after Covid-19 confirmations

By Vincent Cruywagen 31 March 2020

Shoppers wash their hands before entering a shopping centre in Makhaza, Khayelitsha. Photo by Roger Sedres

The single reported case of Covid-19 in Khayelitsha has stirred up unimaginable fear in the area and holds serious ramifications for this high-density community buckling without proper sanitation or access to water.

The mounting fear in Khayelitsha followed confirmation by Health Minister Zweli Mkhize on Sunday evening that South Africa’s coronavirus cases had increased to 1,280. A woman in Cape Town was one of the first reported virus-related deaths and a 74-year-old man from Ladysmith, KwaZulu-Natal became the second fatality.

In neighbouring Mitchells Plain, five cases were reported, sending shockwaves and panic through this highly populated area. In both communities questions were raised about exposure to those who had tested positive.

The Western Cape, which recorded the first Covid-19 death in the country on Friday, 27 March 2020, has 310 Covid-19 infections. Gauteng continues to account for the most confirmed cases in the country with 584.

Western Cape Premier Alan Winde conceded that physical distancing was impeded by families living in very close proximity in crowded townships where some households have as many as seven to 10 people living together.

A community leader in Khayelitsha, Fransina Lukas, said “it’s very scary that one has been reported in the area” and the very thought of it sent “shivers down” her spine.

“These informal settlements are very closely located to each other. There is not enough space for social distancing, and overcrowding is the order of the day. This creates ideal conditions for the virus to spread and infect a large number of people,” Lukas said.

She said not enough awareness has been created as it seemed many people were still of the view that the existence of the virus was a myth and a distant reality of the rich and elite of society.

Lukas warned that such a misconception of this deadly virus could have dire consequences for the community. She underlined that residents not obeying the lockdown regulations could see the virus spreading even faster.

The Social Justice Coalition reacted with shock to the one case reported in Khayelitsha and repeated calls to residents to stay at home.

“The way we have been seeing people on the streets, it’s like nothing is happening. All we can do is to urge our people to please take extra care and not disregard these regulations,” said Axolile Notywala, SJC’s general secretary.

Meanwhile Rozario Brown, a Mitchells Plain resident and founder of the Mitchells Plain Festival, emphasised too many people still believe the Covid-19 was a “hoax and it doesn’t affect them”.

He believes there is too little education heightening the awareness around how this virus attacks the respiratory and how it ultimately kills humans.

“I’m of the opinion that our government needs to introduce much more stringent measures to ensure that everyone addresses the lockdown rules. We have too many people living within our community with highly compromised immune systems to take any chances,” he said.

Community leaders in other informal settlements also reacted with shock to the one case detected in Khayelitsha. In the Zwelihle township in Hermanus with more than 8,000 people without water and sanitation, community leaders reiterated that Covid-19 will spread like a wildfire if it is detected in the township.

Similar fears were also expressed by residents in the Masiphumelele township in Ocean View that has been plagued by devastating fires. Shacks in the area were approximately one metre apart and one communal tap shared by residents with the stench of sewage due to proper sanitation.

Meanwhile, the South African National Defence Force enforcement of the lockdown regulations has come under fire and have been accused of abusing power and assaulting residents.

These claims were rejected by defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula saying that videos on social media showing alleged abuse have not been verified.

President Cyril Ramphosa again highlighted that China had proved that a lockdown was an effective measure to curb the spread of the coronavirus and appealed to communities to adhere to the lockdown regulations imposed.

Meanwhile, the Western Cape Health Department has appealed to the public to stop using gloves and masks.

Head of the department, Dr Beth Engelbrecht, indicated that a person who was not ill and had not been in contact with infected people did not need to wear masks and gloves.

“If you wear a mask and you don’t need it then you fiddle with the mask all the time and you touch your face frequently and the face is the area where most of the infection gets through to the body, so it puts you at risk,” said Dr Engelbrecht.

She said washing your hands with soap and water and ensuring you don’t touch your face is the best prevention. DM

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