South Africa

Lockdown Reflections: Day 119

Spare a thought for learners having to brave the storm

Spare a thought for learners having to brave the storm
CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA (Photo by Gallo Images/Roger Sedres)

South Africa went into a hard lockdown on Friday, 27 March in the hope of blocking the spread of Covid-19. The lockdown was extended, then the country started slowly opening up. Currently, at Level 3 of lockdown, coronavirus cases have spiked, correlating with South Africans’ dwindling appetite for following regulations. These reflections are part of a weekly series that monitors stay-at-home life in various neighbourhoods.

Johannesburg, Gauteng: As South Africa’s Covid-19 cases soar daily, my heart is with learners whose lives haven’t been the same since the closure of schools in March. 

I was recently in conversation with a few Grade 12 learners for a story; all of them were teenagers who looked forward to an exciting and fulfilling final high school year. The focus of the article was on their academics and how they might have or not have suffered because of this pandemic. 

And as one would expect, some were handling it well, while others were crumbling, stressed, and overwhelmed by everything. Upon reflection, I realised that some of these kids were watching, and hopelessly for some, their life plans change while they have no control over it whatsoever. 

For many learners, their matric year is supposed to be the year that they make most of the little time they have remaining at school. For some learners, it is probably the last time they will be in contact with their friends, whom they have spent years with, forming strong bonds. 

It is easy to think of the academics, and the lost school year, but the psychological weight of a pandemic and an uncertain future glaring at you is enough to make one pause for a moment and think of the emotional and mental strain that these young minds might be confronted with. 

One of the students I interviewed rejected outright the idea of not being able to write his final exams this year. For him, this would mean that his plans of going to university and be financially stable to support his grandmother and siblings are delayed for a year. 

At the same time, he wonders whether his marks will be good enough to secure a university entrance after spending a month out of school. Coupled with the continuous disruptions of school closing and opening when a Covid-19 infection is reported. He is not receiving the same amount of tuition he would have received under normal circumstances, another stress. 

Learners have different learning capabilities, styles and preferences. For some, their strength lies in the classroom, with a teacher in front of them. 

I have not even touched on the anxiety that is accompanied by the announcement of a Covid-19 infection, and subsequent school closure. Two of the learners that I spoke to reported that their schools had closed three times since they reopened on 8 June. And, each time, they were stalked by the fear that maybe they had close contact with the learner or educator that had tested positive for the virus. Nonetheless, they remain committed to finishing the academic year and writing their final exams; their resilience continues to overcome their fears. 

My conversations with these young minds were filled with character and laughter, but they were also sombre and I could feel my anxiety creep up every time one of them mentioned their marks, their uncertain future and all the other fears that went unsaid but were laced somewhere in the tremble of their voices – Ayanda Mthethwa

It’s the little things that you miss

Lockdown has bitten away a small chunk of my youth. Going to the beach and frolicking in the sea is one of the things I miss most. (Photo: Sandisiwe Shoba)

Rondebosch, Cape Town: “Lockdown is spoiling my youth.” This was the first line of my latest diary entry. It was one of those days when one incident triggered me emotionally and I did that introvert thing of confiding in an inanimate object. The event that started this pity party was driving past Sea Point promenade. The salty smell of the ocean wafted up my nostrils as the breeze whipped through the open windows. Gosh, it was heaven. Or hell, since all I could do was stare longingly at the sparkling water, taunting me with its beauty. A few people rested on the grass or walked down the promenade but the sandy beach was off limits. Bheki Cele would have been delighted. 

I miss these little things the most. Going to the beach and making shabby-looking sand cakes, travelling, visiting friends, gathering for braais and games nights, heck, even clubbing. I miss doing the things that young people do while being carefree and optimistic about the future. But these days everything is so glum. The air is thick with grief, depression and suffering. Human interaction has been reduced to screen time or socially distanced “hellos” and “goodbyes”. It’s sad to think that years from now when my children look at pictures of me when I was 25 and say “mommy, your complexion was so light”, I’ll have to explain that it was because I spent most of my time stuck indoors because of a killer virus. Fun. 

But, moping aside, I am also excited to see how we as young people emerge from this pandemic. Speaking to young entrepreneurs over the past week, it’s been encouraging to hear how even through the lockdown, the tough economic times and the immense psychological strain of being a young business owner at this time, the youth are finding cool and innovative ways to not only keep their businesses alive but exploit new opportunities emerging in the market. Things like office sanitising services and developing contactless technology. The other day an Uber driver and I were jokingly brainstorming virtual reality experiences to substitute restricted access to places like beaches and cinemas– don’t you dare steal our idea. 

Still, the longing for freedom remains. I’m optimistic for the future, but right now, I have to say Covid-19 sucks! – Sandisiwe Shoba

For some the music has stopped playing

Many upcoming DJs who depended on regular bookings have had their income disrupted by Covid-19. As opposed to established DJs, they do not have the selling power resort to digital concerts. Which has left them in a financial lurch. (Photo: Yanga Sibembe)

Johannesburg South, Gauteng, As we hit day 119 of the national lockdown, I can’t help but think of all the people who are out of work owing the lockdown. All the young people who are heads of homes and breadwinners.

Personally, I have a number of friends who are struggling during this time. I think of a few that I’ve been speaking to recently who have shared how due to Covid-19 their already limited income has dried up. They are up-and-coming disk jockeys who depend on being booked regularly for parties and events to make money.

With Covid-19 wreaking havoc and having brought everything to a standstill, this is no more possible, and might not be possible for a long time to come.

I cannot imagine a world where people fill up clubs like a sardine run in the near future, even when things return to some semblance of normality around the world.

Throughout the lockdown, established and renowned DJs have taken the digital route and held virtual concerts. Of course, if you’re Black Coffee it is easy to organise a virtual concert and sell it to people. When you’re a young DJ from Soweto who is still building their brand, the dynamics are different. – Yanga Sibembe

Crying for Enock Mpianzi

Sam Cowen’s new book, Brutal School Ties. (Photo: Chanel Retief)

West Rand, Gauteng: For the past two weeks, I have been struggling to finish Sam Cowan’s new book Brutal School Ties. When I was first made aware of the book it was from a TimesLive article titled “Sam Cowen uncovers a dark history at leading boys’ school”. 

I didn’t plan to buy it when I went to Exclusive Books but there I was in my mask (because, you know, safety first) in the queue about to pay for a completely different book when I saw Cowen’s book next to the till, perhaps left behind by someone who had decided not to take it. 

I am a firm believer that the universe provides us with signs that we should do or take things that could add value to our lives. And what harm would it do? I mean, I did go a little over budget on my book bill but I still took it as a positive. 

From the moment I opened the book, I knew exactly why I had taken that book and why I had found it difficult to finish it. 

At the beginning of the year, I reported on the heartbreaking story of Enock Mpianzi, the 14-year-old boy who had drowned during a water activity at the school’s annual Grade 8 orientation camp.  

Throughout the process of reporting on Enock’s story, I began to notice how as a journalist I was hungry to find out what had happened to a child who had drowned at a camp that was meant to be supervised. 

I already knew the reputation that Parktown Boys had due to allegations surrounding the violent and brutal initiations on camps and in the hostel and of course the Collan Rex case, but I had never given it a lot of thought before Enock. 

From a subjective point of view, I felt nothing but sheer grief for a boy I had never even met. 

I remember how my editors asked me to try to speak to his parents to get a comment from them, and I remember trying but I can honestly say not hard enough. I was dreading having to have any kind of interaction with any of his relatives.

At Enock’s memorial service at the school I heard (before I saw) his mother crying and mourning for the loss of her son. I remember I took a photograph of her as quickly as possible and then immediately went to my car, avoiding any eye contact from anyone and everyone, and just cried. 

In Cowen’s book, you read about how young men bravely spoke to the author not only about Collan Rex but also about the toxic traditions that exist at that school. 

You read about how some of them decided to speak to Cowen after they saw the headline about Enock and decided “enough is enough”. 

I read a book about several young men who were as young as Enock when they were exposed to brutal violence under the guise of it being “the Parktown Boys’ way” and how they too mourned for Enock Mpianzi. 

It was in reading Cowen’s book that I again cried the same way I did in my car when I covered Enock’s story. – Chanel Retief 

I miss going to live music shows 

Thanks to Covid-19, I can only imagine how min-blowing it would be see Dumama + Kechou perform their latest album,

Mowbray, Cape Town: Occasionally I’m reminded that had things gone according to plan, I would’ve seen the jazz bands, Seba Kaapstad and the Ezra Collective at the Cape Town Jazz Festival. I would have collected another story of how much fun I had at Jazz Fest, how many friends I had made and probably a story about how amazing Zoë Modiga is live. 

But I don’t and it makes me sad that I don’t know when I’ll be able to see a live jazz performance again. 

Thandi Ntuli recently released a live version of her album, Exiled. Dumama +  Kechou have a brilliant album out and all I can think about is how mindblowing it would be to see them live. – Karabo Malofe

Why are South Africans not angry enough to demand accountability from all spheres of government?

Looting, stonings and land invasions have swept through Delft, Cape Town over the past few days. (Photo: Gallo Images / Roger Sedres)

Oranjezicht, Cape Town: This week, I’ve seen land invasions in my home suburb of Delft, and it had me thinking: is it really that difficult for a government to do its people-mandated job and do the work of making sure our communities run smoothly? Why do people need to invade open land, burn property just so any sphere of government listens to them and makes good on promises made during election season? Is it that difficult for a City not to evict people during a pandemic in the middle of a Cape winter? Is it that difficult for a province of legends to get hospitals running smoothly – especially during a health pandemic? Is it that difficult for a national government to ensure that the most vulnerable – the elderly, the poor, the children, the homeless and the poor caregivers – are adequately protected in the middle of a pandemic?

Is it that difficult for a president of a country to answer questions from journalists on national television after his speeches during prime time? 

If governmental spheres are doing their job, we would not need to be taking them to court. We would not need to remind ministers of their duties – spending time fixing things like the taxi industry and not being Ministers of Twitter. We should not be fighting the government to provide the same kind of police resources those in Camps Bay have, but those in Khayelitsha do not have. 

We, as a country, have not become angry enough to demand accountability from all spheres of government. It goes beyond putting up seats in Bree Street demanding the government open up alcohol sales in restaurants. It’s about making sure that you demand the government fix the street light that your restaurant workers depend on to keep safe when they walk from the taxi stop at 9pm. It’s about screaming at the government when your domestic worker has been on the waiting list for 20 years and yet she still lives in a shack. It’s about lobbying your politically connected government and business friends to make sure that there is good public transport so that workers living in townships do not have to travel two hours to get a job that is 20 km away

It’s about demanding that your taxes get used to fix a toilet so that a young boy does not fall into a pit latrine and suffocate in faeces again. 

This week I have learnt that we need to get up and be angry – and demand accountability from all spheres of government – whether local, provincial or national. – Suné Payne. DM


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