Khayelitsha is one of the largest townships in South Africa with a population just over a million people. Having looked at the different sections of Khayelitsha, it is not that difficult to understand why social distancing has not been very effective for these ordinary citizens. There are vast sections in Khayelitsha that are filled with shacks that are so close to each other. In these areas, social distancing is the very last thing on people’s minds. Sanitation is a big challenge in these areas. You may find there are close to 100 households that are dependent on the same tap for water supply. Khayelitsha also faces a number of other challenges, such as high crime rates and high levels of unemployment. There are many households who are poverty stricken and rely on social grants. Some might also be street vendors who sell things to increase their household income. Many of these people can attest to the fact that this lockdown has had a detrimental effect on their livelihoods.
When government announced that the lockdown would be implemented most people had not yet received their salaries/wages and social grants had not been paid out. Unfortunately for people living in Khayelitsha, the luxury of panic buying was not on the table for them at that stage. After government had announced that the lockdown would be implemented starting on the 26th March many Khayelitsha residents were worried because payment dates were just starting and only a handful of people had access to money at that stage. And this is the time we all know that the shopping centres/malls start to get full and queues just get longer and longer by the day. In an attempt to mitigate this government paid out social grants for the elderly and the disabled earlier than others. However, as can be seen by the length of the queues outside the shopping mall in Makhaza, Khayelitsha, this has not entirely addressed the situation of decreasing the number of people all in one place. With taxis only operating for the sole purpose of essential workers it has become very difficult for people to go and do their shopping in other areas as they are used to.
As stated earlier, Khayelitsha has a population just over a million people. Residents have to rely on the five small shopping centers that are situated in the different sections. Even to date we still have long lines wanting to gain access to these shopping centres. Pay dates are officially over and we are just about to enter a new month but we still have long lines of people wanting to buy essentials for their households. People in these lines are definitely not social distancing as can be seen in the pictures provided. Is this their fault? Neither the shops nor the police / community leaders are helping to enforce the two metre rule and when I have personally asked people to stand away from me in a queue, they say no because they are scared that other people will push in. I have seen clever tactics other shops have done to enforce social distancing such as placing shopping trolleys between people, but nothing like this is happening in Khayelitsha.
People in Khayelitsha can stand in the line for an average of 30 minutes, sometimes much longer, before they are allowed inside to do their shopping. Most of these people in the queues are not wearing facial masks nor do they have hand sanitizers. Many people could be infected simply by standing in these queues. The only time people receive hand sanitizers is when they gain access to the actual shops; people who go straight to the ATMs are not protected. Moreover, even though the vast majority of street vendors are not operating because they do not have permits, ordinary people are just going on as normal. People are interacting as they normally do and frequently visit one another.
When listening to the discussions people have regarding this virus some do not seem to care much. Some believe that the virus does not affect black people. Some are more worried that they might not get paid their salaries/wages or might not have work after the lockdown is lifted. They are worried how they will pay rent, how they will get money to feed their children who are forever hungry at home. This is a cause for concern because as you walk in the streets, you would find children playing all around as if nothing is happening. Could parents be letting them play outside in order to distract from wanting to eat all the time? People say that on around the 20th of every month food supply within the household always runs out. On normal days children would be at school and getting food from the school feeding scheme, but now they are stuck at home.
On a more positive note, levels of crime have decreased noticeably. Undoubtedly this can be attributed to the increased police force in the area and also the fact that alcohol is a hard thing to come by nowadays.
That said, people are still frustrated about just sitting at home and not having anything to do. Some have resorted to asking for more piece jobs, such as house maintenance and washing of dustbins after the garbage has been collected. People are trying on a daily basis to find means possible to get that R20 to buy bread at least for the children so they can eat during the day. As days go by, people are getting used to not having entertainment, but they are very concerned about their well-being should they not get paid, or only receive part of their salaries/wages. All that people are wishing for is for government to meet them halfway in terms of not letting them starve during this time. The issue of people going hungry really is top of mind for everyone.
In preparing this blog, we reached out to our network of fieldworkers who have worked with us on previous research projects and asked them about what is happening in their communities. Below is a response from one of our fieldworkers who lives in New Crossroads, near Gugulethu.
“Where I live it is business as usual, people do not take this lockdown seriously. They walk up and down and visit each other. Kids are playing on streets in numbers. What I have found out when I went to the pharmacy on Monday is that the mall had long queues. And people lack education and knowledge of coronavirus, they believe it only infect the travellers and tourists. They are frustrated with this whole thing. I am also frustrated because I cannot hustle and make ends meet but at the same time I understand the importance of the lockdown to flatten the curve. The research project I was supposed to work on has been cancelled, it was the US client and the pulled off. We did the training a week before the lockdown”. – Zodwa, New Crossroads
Another fieldworker who is also living in Makhaza Khayelitsha also commented:
“To me lockdown is best solution to decrease the spreading of the virus especially the closing of the liquor store. Even though there are still people moving up and down but at least they are sober and aware of the virus and because the liquor stores are closed…
…I thank the President for the lockdown, even the robbers are so quiet we are moving freely. Every body is sober. It is sad that I am no longer going to church but I believe that everything happens for a reason.” – Khanyo, Khayelitsha
“I heard that government is also giving food parcels to the needy which a very good idea so that even the people moving up and down looking for something to eat can at least decrease because really people cannot be indoors hungry. And I think if social services can deliver the food door to doors will be best because I have heard that you must go and get a form and then submit it somewhere that is not safe because the hands that are touching those forms and where the forms are submitted they will be queuing. And I think if the risk disaster management can deliver hand sanitizer door to door that will also be good.” – Khanyo, Khayelitsha