South Africa


Surviving the Coronavirus shutdown: seven days to go (or more)

Surviving the Coronavirus shutdown: seven days to go (or more)
A man reads a book next to a bus stop in Emmarentia on 9 April 2020. (Photo: Sumeya Gasa)

South Africa went into lockdown on Friday, 27 March, in a countrywide bid to block the spread of Covid-19. These reflections form part of a series by Young Maverick writers who are monitoring the 21-day stay-at-home policy from various neighbourhoods.

Read Day 7 reflections of the lockdown here

Day 1 here

The day before the lockdown here

When there’s not much to see, we tend to listen more

Emmarentia, Gauteng: It has been 14 days since the country went into lockdown. Over the past two weeks, I have made a few observations around me. I live in a block of flats and the newfound quiet of the main road amplifies the sounds of life lived under lockdown. Or perhaps, when there’s not much to see, we tend to listen more.

I have heard the sounds of a broken melody slowly taking shape as a neighbour practised on a keyboard. A little further away from my apartment, someone has taken out what sounds like a flute and has played at random hours of the day.

This morning I observed, with relief, that I haven’t heard the chatter of the women who work at a building next door in a while. Just before the lockdown was announced, their usual jolly conversations had changed as they updated one another on the progression of the coronavirus in South Africa. I was concerned after their well-being since they work in very close proximity to one another in a tiny room, tucked away at the centre of at least five buildings. 

Beyond their little nook, on the main road, a young man in a hat has been pacing the quiet street for the past week. His usual companions are no longer around.

This morning, I spot him again just as a security car passes by. Another man, seemingly homeless, appears from the corner with a big backpack and a few unidentifiable packages. He sits down next to the bus stop, pulls out a book and begins to read. A few moments later, the local troublemaker, also homeless, appears and begins speaking very loudly to the reading man. After failing to receive much of a reaction, he moves along seeking his next target and sees me watching from the balcony. He yells and demands that I greet him. – Sumeya Gasa

Preparing for pickled fish and hot cross buns in lockdown

‘My family and I bought ingredients for our traditional Easter meal, pickled fish, just a few days before the lockdown began. There may not be Easter eggs, but at least there is pickled fish and hot cross buns.’ Chanel Retief says on day 14 of the official 21 days of lockdown. (Photo: Chanel Retief)

West Rand, Gauteng: Thursday marks day 14 since the official lockdown. It also the day before the Easter Weekend. This would usually mean the shops would be booming with people, if they are like my family, buying ingredients for their pickled fish recipes or sugary Easter Eggs or scrumptious Hot Cross Buns or just stocking up to have a great weekend with family or friends. 

My family would have been the crowds, but unfortunately not this year. 

I come from a very spiritual and religious family who enjoy the Easter Weekend every year. We enjoy inviting other family members or friends to come over and share the festivities. This year is different.

This time last year, the heat of the debate was hot cross buns fooling the “South African breathalysers into thinking you’re drunk”. 

Or when the police arrested more than 900 suspects for various crimes that included the possession of dangerous weapons, possession of drugs, malicious damage to property, driving while under the influence of alcohol and other crimes.

How the times have changed.

Now you can get arrested for leaving your house. Period.

Unless you’re out for a good and lawful reason, unlike some ministers we know. 

I am content, however, to have found comfort in the Houseparty App that allows me to video chats while playing games with my friends this long weekend.

And my family is prepared to maintain normalcy when it comes to the Easter Weekend. So we will still eat my mom’s famous pickled fish with hot cross buns (without fear of failing any breathalyser test) and maybe there won’t be any Easter Eggs this year, but we are safe and that’s really all that matters.

Also, the new season of HBO’s Insecure comes out during Easter Weekend, so there’s a silver lining to everything. – Chanel Retief

The future is bleak as more and more uncertainties mount

Some movement at the municipal offices in Ekurhuleni could be seen during day 14 of the 21-day lockdown. (Photo: Ayanda Mthethwa)

Ekurhuleni, Gauteng: It’s Day 14 today and I feel the uncertainties mounting. Largely because I have been inundated with questions from friends and family members who are apprehensive about the possible extension of the lockdown.

The answer is indefinite. 

Last week, Minister of Health Zweli Mkhize warned of a “calm before a devastating storm”. His stern and possibly truthful warning has been my point of reference to the “will the lockdown be extended?” questions I cannot answer definitively. 

The uncertainties are compounded by the increased movements observed a few metres away from my gate. Seven days ago, I could easily count how many cars use the main road across from my house in the 10 minutes I would stand outside. Today, I counted over 15 cars within five minutes of stepping out. 

But should we find comfort in SA’s Covid-19 numbers?

Before we went into lockdown, modelling projections estimated that we would have 4,000 infections by 1 April. As of 8 April, we recorded 1,845 infections, which is, gladly, far less than was estimated. 

With the government having extended its testing criteria and ramped up testing across the country, it’s still unclear whether we might see a spike in the coming weeks. Especially because, though 63,776 tests have been conducted to date, the public sector accounts for a small fraction of those tests. 

Adding salt to the wound is Moody’s junk status downgrade and the rand’s record fall. Forecasts of what lies ahead after we’ve dealt with the pandemic do not provide any form of relief. 

It’s becoming more and more difficult to find solace in the fact that 21 days is enough for us to fight this pandemic. It was never enough. But it certainly is the beginning. – Ayanda Mthethwa

I miss the nature reserve that is my third home

One of the places I love that I cannot go to… This picture was taken on 24 September 2019 and depicts the Howick Falls in KwaZulu-Natal. (Photo: Yanga Sibembe)

Johannesburg South: Fourteen days into the lockdown, my neighbourhood is still relatively quiet. For the most part, people have observed the regulations, although at one point or another I’ve seen a straggler or two walk past on the street as I stood on our porch. These were mostly teenage boys.

Upon inquisition, the answer is always the same: “I’ve been sent to the shops to go buy bread.” Which is plausible of course, since our local Spar is walking distance.

Since the last time I wrote, I have not observed any police presence. And other people who I’ve spoken to have shared the same sentiments – no police presence.

For the most part, I personally haven’t missed being outdoors because I’m a recluse. One thing I do miss is going hiking at the local nature reserve the Klipriviersberg Nature Reserve.

Under normal circumstances, it is basically my third home, after my actual home and our offices at Daily Maverick.

I love nature and its healing capabilities, especially on days when I feel the weight of the world weighing down on me, as it is weighing down on most of our people right now. And I try to visit the nature reserve at least once a week for a dose of serenity and fresh air.

Of course, in the last month I haven’t been able to visit the reserve. It was shut down two weeks before President Cyril Ramaphosa announced the lockdown. I’ve tried to go on a kickabout in the backyard, which has enough trees, but it’s just not the same.

As soon as things fall back into some pattern of normality, I look forward to being lost in nature once more. – By Yanga Sibembe

I was almost shocked to hear waste removal trucks on my street

Quiet streets and sunny days have been the key feature of lockdown for the past few days in Rondebosch, Cape Town. 9 April 2020. (Photo: Sandisiwe Shoba)

Rondebosch, Cape Town: The possibility of a lockdown extension has been a hot topic of conversation among friends and family. Most of us are dreading the idea. Two weeks indoors has already been tough. 

A friend pointed out that Wuhan survived 77 days, so surely we could survive 30-odd days of lockdown? But it’s interesting to see how some are coping with this period a lot better than others. Some are thriving under the circumstances, embracing the solitude and picking up new hobbies or tackling old projects. Others, though, have been thrown off the wagon by the “new normal”. It seems to be bringing out either the best or the worst in many of us.

Things are still so quiet in my neck of the woods. I was almost shocked to hear waste removal trucks on my street this morning. I popped my head outside to watch. I laughed when I realised I wasn’t the only one. Cape Town is also known for having beautiful sunny days. Sitting in the garden to try to catch some rays is great, but it doesn’t come close to the freedom of a day at the beach or spending time at a park. It’s quite an adjustment, but in the long run, we must remember that it’s a worthwhile one.

But it’s concerning to see that more homeless persons have also returned to the street since last week. The assumption was that the homeless were being sheltered by the City of Cape Town in seven locations. Activists had warned that some homeless people could slip through the cracks.

Meanwhile, there have also been reports that a few homeless people are resisting the move to shelters. Fights have also broken out and apparently some of the shelter sites are not in the best shape. We hope the City will step up its efforts and protect those who are most vulnerable at this crucial time. – Sandisiwe Shoba

Some continue to access alcohol and cigarettes on the black market

SOWETO, SOUTH AFRICA. (Photo by Gallo Images/Fani Mahuntsi)

Protea, Soweto: It’s business as usual in many parts of Soweto where people wake up in the morning and go to the malls under the pretext that they are getting groceries.

 The presence of  Johannesburg Metro Police Department (JMPD) and South African Police Service (SAPS) has not been very evident. They did not bother to disperse crowds who gathered in Protea South. JMPD officers visited a few foreign-owned shops, spoke to the owners and were seen jumping back into their vehicle.

In front of the Protea Gardens Mall, SAPS members searched some informal traders who were selling bags of potatoes while two of their colleagues (car registration known to DM) delivered a parcel in a black plastic bag at a shack in Protea South. “I was so scared I almost wet myself,” one of two boys who were approaching the same homestead to buy marijuana said. “Luckily they have just come to deliver,” he told his friend.

The two officers in full SAPS uniform drove off immediately, only briefly stopping by a group of four women in the street. They no longer had the black plastic bag when they got back in the marked police car. The contents of the black plastic bag were a mystery.

President Cyril Ramaphosa’s regulations meant to cap the spread of the deadly coronavirus are not being taken seriously in some areas in Soweto. To some people, who continue to easily access cigarettes and alcohol in the black market, albeit at exorbitant prices, the lockdown is seen as a sham. And, with not much police or army visibility, some continue to think they are entitled to leave their homes. – Bheki C. Simelane DM


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