Maverick Citizen Op-Ed

‘We are getting cold’: Lifting of clothing-sale ban comes not a moment too soon

By Martin Bekker, Benjamin Roberts & Yul Derek Davids 1 May 2020

Some of the thousands of residents wait in a queue to be tested during a local government mass testing deployment in the high density Alexandra township on day 32 of the national lockdown as a result of Covid-19 Coronavirus, Johannesburg, South Africa, 27 April 2020. Stage 5 lockdown is due to end 30 April 2020 when stage 4 will be implemented. (Photo: EPA-EFE/KIM LUDBROOK)

Winter looms as South Africa enters its sixth week of lockdown. The loosening of restrictions on the sale of clothing, while only partial, will bring relief to many desperate South Africans. With temperatures falling around the country, the need for winter clothing is a growing concern.

Martin Bekker, Benjamin Roberts & Yul Derek Davids

While South Africans are generally supportive of and overwhelmingly compliant with the national lockdown, many are distressed about a shortage of winter clothing – with no warm outfits for children and babies a particular anxiety.

This is one conclusion of a joint University of Johannesburg-Human Sciences Research Council (UJ-HSRC) survey aimed at understanding the lived experiences, attitudes and policy preferences of South Africans under the coronavirus lockdown, and how these differ on the basis of race, class, age and gender over time.

Even before the Covid-19 pandemic, an alarming 21% of adults – participating in the 2018/19 round of the HSRC South African Social Attitudes Survey (SASAS) – had concerns about not having enough suitable clothing for household needs. The subsequent coronavirus survey showed these fears over clothing needs were experienced by people of all races, income groups and ages, but was concentrated among female respondents.

With more than 6,000 complete responses, this was one of the biggest and most reliable (weighted to provide a robust demographic representation) nationwide studies conducted since South Africa’s national lockdown began.

 Voices of concern

Asking the open-ended question, “What is the worst thing about the lockdown to you”, the survey revealed people’s sense of growing desperation. “The worst thing about the lockdown [is] not being able to buy winter clothes and blankets for this winter,” was one of several dozen anonymous responses on the theme.

The sentiment was echoed by answers to another open-ended question, in which survey respondents were asked, “What would your message to the President be?”

“To please reconsider opening clothes shops. Children’s clothes are torn and small, winter is here, they getting sick,” commented a young woman (in the 25- to 34-year-old bracket) from Mdantsane in Eastern Cape.

A father from Snake Park in Soweto, Gauteng, said, “Clothing stores being closed down and have been in need of warm clothes for my baby which is not only affecting me but other people as well.”

A young woman (18-24 years) from Dinokana in North West pleaded, “Continue helping South Africans and please consider opening clothing shops.”

Particular worries were voiced by expectant parents and those looking after newborn babies or very young children. More than 40 pregnant mothers wrote of their anxiety about not being able to buy infant clothing.

One response: “Am pregnant and due. Have not been able to buy clothes for my unborn baby; nothing at all. Am scared what will happen after giving birth. What will my baby wear?”

Another: “Not being able to buy winter clothes because my six months baby doesn’t have warm clothes during these cold weather. It’s winter already where I live, we have cold weather so he has to wear shorts even in cold weather.

“Can the stores for babies’ clothes be opened, we have babies and they grow every day and there are pregnant women who give birth each and every day. We need baby essentials please,” implored a woman in Soshanguve, Gauteng.

A young man from Samora Machel, Western Cape, appealed to the President, We want him to open shops for clothes so that we can buy clothes for winter and preparation for unborn babies.”

Relief

On Friday 1 May, the country implements the Covid-19 Risk Adjusted Strategy, involving an initial transition from Level 5 to Level 4 restrictions. This means manufacturers can operate with a reduced staff complement, while stores, spaza shops, online retailers and informal traders can sell winter clothing, bedding and children’s clothing.

Despite a resumption in the making and selling of clothing, the reality is that many citizens face unprecedented financial difficulties. Many have lost sources of income or are receiving reduced wages and salaries due to the economic consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic. Costs of travelling to buy clothing are a further financial burden for many. 

Compensatory provisions of the economic stimulus package will only stretch so far. The need will become acute in coming months. Charitable giving from big corporates, community schemes and citizens, focused on clothing alongside other needs such as food parcels, will assume greater salience if untold suffering is to be prevented.

The donation and distribution of clothes and blankets to those in need must therefore be well-coordinated. The government must ensure equal access to baby clothes, and especially disposable nappies, because better-off citizens are able to buy in bulk and this could create shortages at shops. Retailers must therefore limit the sale of key items per customer to ensure that there are always enough for others.

It is common for second-hand clothes to be shared within families. While this reduces the financial burden on households, strict prevention methods must be in place, such as the washing of clothes thoroughly before other family members use them. DM/MC

This is the second in a series of articles by researchers from the University of Johannesburg’s Centre for Social Change (CSC) and the Human Sciences Research Council’s Developmental, Capable and Ethical State division (DCES). The first article can be read here. Data comes from the online multilingual Covid-19 Impact Survey. 

Share your lockdown experience by completing the survey, which is ongoing at https://hsrc.datafree.co/r/covidUJ This is a data-free platform, supplied by niBu, the brains behind the Moya Messenger App, which has 2 million active users. The UJ and HSRC will release results continuously throughout the lockdown. Phase 1 of the survey covers the days from 13-18 April, Phase 2 from 18-27 April, and Phase 3 from 27 April onwards. See https://www.uj.ac.za/newandevents/Documents/UJ HSRC summary report v1.pdf.The survey uses the #datafree Moya Messenger App on the #datafree biNu platform.

 * Martin Bekker is a researcher at the Centre for Social Change at the University of Johannesburg and an independent development consultant. Benjamin Roberts is chief research specialist and coordinator of the South African Social Attitudes Survey (SASAS) in the Developmental, Capable and Ethical State (DCES) research division of the HSRC. Yul Derek Davids is chief research specialist in the Developmental, Capable and Ethical State (DCES) research division of the HSRC.

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