President Cyril Ramaphosa, on that fateful Tuesday March 23, said: “I am concerned that a rapid rise in infections will stretch our health services beyond what we can manage and many people will not be able to access the care they need. We must therefore do everything within our means to reduce the overall number of infections and to delay the spread of infection over a longer period – what is known as flattening the curve of infections.” The infections at the time of this announcement was 402 cases – a jump from the 61 the previous week. 50 days later we are sitting at more than 11 300 cases and more than 200 deaths.
In Chris Hani district the cases have gone above 200 with Emalahleni being the hardest hit with more than 100, followed by the economic hub Komani and surrounding areas with more than 50 cases. So have we ‘flattened the curve’ or are things spiralling out of control? These are some of the things we cannot do on level 4: We cannot buy or sell alcohol, cigarettes, flip-flops or open toe shoes, printed T shirts and any other item of clothing not deemed winter wear. You can buy furniture, but the shops cannot deliver it. We can order cooked and fast food but it must only be delivered…good luck to a person living in Zingquthu village. Buying goods online is still not allowed. This, to me, is not thought out properly. If the shop is open then why not allow customers to buy whatever they want in the shop? How would my buying flip-flops as opposed to a jacket spread the corona virus? People in places with very mild winters like southern Kwazulu Natal and the northern parts of Limpopo – what must they do?
The millions who enjoy taking part in outdoor activities and sport are also in limbo with little or no prospect that they will return to the fields before September at the earliest.
According to the government only four out of 10 workers are expected to be allowed to go back to work under level 4, which means the other six are still marooned at home, taking no part in economic activities. What about the many millions who are invisible, who operate in the shadows in the sections of our economy that are not easily identifiable and recognised? What about those people who were eking out an existence on the periphery of society and the economy? Who is looking after the informal trader who depends solely on people being out and about in the streets? Who do they sell to now since their clients are in their homes or restricted to their neighbourhoods?
The president announced measures like the R500 billion package on top of the more than R2 billion Solidarity Fund. This sounds very impressive until you actually take a closer look at the qualifying criteria – daunting, to say the least. The grant of R350 is nowhere near being up and running, so what must those without any income do in the meantime? Clearly the hard lockdown is not a panacea – but was it ever meant to be a permanent solution? Is it the only viable option to keep the infection rate in check?
Whenever I drive into the Komani CBD it looks like business as usual with throngs in the streets, so what is the use? We all sat in anticipation on Wednesday night when Ramaphosa addressed the nation. On August 15, 1985 we all sat in anticipation when PW Botha made his infamous ‘Rubicon’ speech. It felt like déjà vu.