Maverick Citizen


‘Umshanguzo we Corona’: The highs and lows of getting a Covid-19 vaccination in Soweto

‘Back in the days of Soul City, we got lots of information about ARVs. Why you must take them. What are the side effects. But with this corona vaccination, on the TV they just say go and get vaccinated.’ (Photo: / Wikipedia)

To succeed, a successful vaccination programme needs good medical science, widespread distribution and effective communication. Communication is key because rumours, misconceptions, mistrust, lack of confidence in government institutions and fear can scupper even the best science and roll-out plans. Widespread uptake won’t work if people resist or stay away. Tshabalira Lebakeng went to get his Covid-19 vaccination, then spoke to people on the street. These are the stories he heard.


Tshabalira Lebakeng is a writer with the Homeless Writers Project. This story was written by Tshabalira with assistance from Harriet Perlman.

At midnight on 26 March 2020, President Cyril Ramaphosa put South Africa into lockdown because of Covid-19. People were saying lots of things about how to protect themselves from corona. Some said if you drink lots of hot water (or better, lots of brandy) or boil cooking oil and drink it when it’s warm, you will be safe.  

I remember praying for a vaccine or medication that will help people and protect them from dying.

Then, on 17 February this year, the government announced it would begin vaccine roll-outs to healthcare workers. The day after the announcement, I met my friend Nelson. He told me that there would be no more nurses in South Africa. 

“Why?” I asked him. He said nurses were going to be injected with a poison. “The vaccine they will use on nurses is not the vaccine that will be used by the white and rich people. The system wants to finish us.”  

I was alarmed when Nelson told me that vaccines would kill people. I wanted to get vaccinated. I have diabetes and the thought of getting corona has really scared me. I am high risk. 

I asked Nelson where he got that information. He told me he saw it on Facebook. 

“This is not a vaccine,” he said,  “It’s a tracking device. It will help the police to track down people if they do bad things.” 

But, on 28 July when vaccines became available to me, I went to Baragwanath to get my very own umshanguzo

I had mixed feelings. I was excited to protect myself, but people around me were telling me scary stories. 

What if I got sick? That day, someone on Facebook posted that a celebrity had just died from a vaccination. I was scared. I wondered if I would die after getting the vaccination.

When I arrived at the hospital, I went to the help desk. A rough-looking gentleman was standing next to the desk. He looked like a bank robber from Orlando. I thought he was the one about to give me a vaccination, so I walked straight past him. 

He asked me if I knew where I was going. 

“Yes, I am going to get a vaccination,” I told him.  

“First or second jab?” he asked. Then he introduced himself. He said he was the one doing the registration and asked for my ID card. I did not want to give this man my ID card but then his supervisor came over and I could see he was working there. 

I wrote down all my information. When I was finished, to my surprise he said to me: 

Njayami faka icoldrink ngikusheshele ngeline. Uyabona istimela saseZola.” 

 “My dog, give me cold drink money and you will be number one in the line. You can see it’s a long line – like the train to Zola.

I was not going to give him money but I asked how much. “R50 or anything,” he said. 

I asked him if he is allowed to do that here. He told me to sit down, wait and forget about it. I sat down and asked myself, is everything a business deal in South Africa?

I sat next to a lady and asked her if she’s happy that she is about to be vaccinated. She told me she is not happy at all because she doesn’t want to die. I was shocked. She said she was getting a vaccination because they say people won’t get jobs if they don’t vaccinate. She said that the vaccination is not approved yet. That the government is testing it on us.  

While we were talking, the gentleman next to us said he had heard that after the vaccination you have 30 days to live.  I asked him, “If that is the case, why did you come?” 

He said: “At work they told me if I don’t vaccinate I will be called ‘high risk’ to work around other people. I must put food on the table, so I will take a chance.” 

I waited for about an hour and then a nurse came over to our area. I asked her if it is true that we might die after the vaccination. 

“I am vaccinated and I am still alive,” she laughed. A lady on the other side told the nurse this was no joke. People are scared that they are being injected by a tracking device. If that tracking device doesn’t work, they might die. 

A man got up and left. 

Then I saw a guy praying and I went up to him: “Why are you praying?”

He replied: “The bible says put God in all things you are doing. At church they told us to pray before getting the vaccination. That will protect us. On social media they are also talking about it. People say they are injected by poison. But because they want to travel and get government help, like social grants, they are prepared to put themselves in danger.” 

He asked me if I’m okay about the vaccine. I told him I was. This was my chance to be safe from corona and not get very sick. He looked at me like I was crazy.

I asked another woman how she felt about getting the vaccine. She said she wanted to get it, but that people have told her it would take her five years to get pregnant. But she wanted to get one because you don’t know what will happen to you if you don’t.  

Then my time came and I went in to get the vaccination. The process was easy. I sat down and the nurse, a chubby, short lady with a big smile, was the friendliest person I had met so far. 

“Welcome,” she said, and asked me how I felt.  

“I am scared of needles,” I said. 

“No, don’t worry, you look like a strong man.” I told her I was diabetic.    

“So many people are scared to say they are chronics. You look young and brave.”  We laughed together. 

“Most of the men don’t come for vaccinations because they are scared they won’t be able to make babies afterwards. You men are cowards. Us ladies are strong,” she said. 

She calmed me down. The injection was sore but I didn’t cry. When I was done, I waited in the waiting area and they explained to us that if there was pain, take Panado, and what to do if we had bad symptoms. It was all very helpful.  

And then I made my way home. I felt fine but just a little sleepy. I called my aunt and told her I had got my vaccine. 

“You did a good thing,” she said. “I am so proud of you.”

I called my friend Nelson and told him the news. 

“Well, call me in six days,” he said. “If you are still alive I will take myself to a vaccination site.”

The next day I felt fine, but still a bit tired. And very happy to be alive!  

Tales from the community

I decided to ask people in my neighbourhood if they were planning on getting vaccinations. 

I talked to Veli, who works at a clothing shop in town. He told me it’s okay to vaccinate, but he doesn’t think he will go. People say it’s an injection for animals, he said. And Bill Gates is testing it on us.   

There are often unemployed kids hanging around a local community hall. They play drums in the yard. 

I spoke to Samkelo. He is about 20 years old. Samkelo said he wouldn’t vaccinate when he was eligible because his mother said it was dangerous. She said it can paralyse you for the rest of your life. 

Mathebula is 44 years old, from Giyani. He sells vegetables on the street. He said he had never been to a hospital or clinic before and he didn’t trust anything to do with the government or hospitals.  

I met Veronica in a place we call “Ghost Town”, next to Zone 3. She had her vaccination. But she also drank strong coffee afterwards because she didn’t want it to work too well. Her son told her the government had put a micro tracker inside the vaccine to monitor her and they would take away her grant money if she didn’t do the vaccine. 

Thabo is an old friend. I met him when I lived in Diepkloof. He was a taxi driver back then and now drives an Uber. He’s had his vaccination, but he is not happy. “I don’t know what is good or not good,” he said. “There are no jobs, no electricity, but they have money to buy vaccines? Something is going on with this vaccine thing.” 

He told me after he got the jab he had rubbed his arm with urine so he wouldn’t get sick. His friends told him to do that. 

Makhosonke lives on my street. When I go to the tuckshop, I always see him at his gate and we chat. Like me, he is a hustler and gets piece jobs here and there. He said he wasn’t in a rush to get his vaccination. He said that in the future we will all have to attach our vaccination certificates when we travel or apply for a job. And there will be someone selling vaccination documents, so he will make a plan then.

I often go to my aunt’s to charge my phone. Zama is her neighbour and we like to chat. She always has nice clothes, but I never see her going to work! She said she had heard about the vaccine from her children, who learnt about it on social media. “They told me not to get vaccinated.”  

“I am a human. I don’t want to have a tracking system in my body.” 

On my way home, I stopped at a fish and chip shop in Zone 3 Diepkloof.  I often see Thabo there. I told him I had been vaccinated. 

“Yes, I did vaccinate too,” he told me. “I’m happy… It shows our ANC is taking care of us. This is what I vote for. So I’m happy… my kids, they will vaccinate too.” 

I asked him what he would do if his kids said they didn’t want to vaccinate.  

“No kids have rights in my house,” he said. “People are dead because of corona. All of us, we must vaccinate. We must stop this ‘rights’ thing with our kids. They must do what we tell them to do.” 

I think people haven’t got enough information about vaccinations. Back in the days of Soul City, we got lots of information about ARVs. Why you must take them. What are the side effects. But with this corona vaccination, on the TV they just say go and get vaccinated.  

Too many people don’t trust our politicians. They think someone must be making money from vaccinations. Look how they stole the money for PPE. And there is just too much wrong information on social media.

Six days after my vaccination, I called my friend Nelson and told him it was six days since my jab and I was still alive. 

“Well, you are the strongest person I know,” he said. “I thought I was going to hear news that you were no more and I would be eating cow and samp.” 

I asked if he would go to get his vaccination now, like he promised. 

“No, I am going to stick to my imbiza for now. I will be okay,” he said.  DM/MC


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