Lockdown leaves vulnerable communities in dire straits
MBOMBELA – “We have two options - starve to death or expose ourselves to the virus.” These were the words of a woman queuing to buy bread to feed her family. Local shop owners in KaBokweni say it is a daily battle to keep up with the demand for bread, since the government implemented the lockdown on March 26.
President Cyril Ramaphosa yesterday (March 30) announced that there were 1,326 confirmed coronavirus (Covid-19) cases in the country. By Tuesday afternoon (March 31), this number had risen to 1,353.
Business Insider reported the Minister of Small Business Development, Khumbudzo Ntshavheni, had confirmed that only licensed spaza shops would be allowed to trade during the lockdown.
One shop owner, who asked to stay anonymous for fear of reprisal, said she had seen people in the township queuing for hundreds of metres just to get the bare essentials. “Because the Pakistani shops are all closed, people have to wait in line outside a supermarket or a convenience store to buy essentials.”
She added that she understood why these residents deemed it necessary to leave their homes. “It is easy for those who have comfortable homes to point fingers. Most people here live in one-roomed shacks and cannot afford to stock up on groceries. They do not have fridges or cupboard space. They therefore have to buy goods on a daily basis just to survive.”
Stella Mine, near Kaapsehoop, is another community that does not have access to transport to get to shops to buy food. The only shops in Louisville, another mining community near Barberton, are owned by Pakistani nationals. These shops all had to close their doors due to the lockdown.
Vusi Ndlovu, a resident of Louisville, said most residents are worried, as the nearest shops are in Barberton, about 25 kilometres away. “Why does the municipality not issue the Pakistani shops with licences so we can buy food here? Why do we now have to expose ourselves to more danger by travelling all the way to the towns for food?
Catherine Restiau, the founding director of the local non-governmental organisation (NGO) Dignity, who assists sex workers and drug addicts with rehabilitation, stated that most of these sex workers had gone home or had rented rooms in the townships for the duration of the lockdown.
She said most of Mbombela’s homeless people were being accommodated at the local Community Forum.
“Although all the spaza shops in the rural areas are closed, taxis are still operating in these areas. Commuters still wait in long queues for transport. We have noticed that these taxi operators are not adhering to the social-distancing rules.
Mbombela Municipality spokesman, Joseph Ngala, could not be reached for comment at the time of going online.
Written by: Tereasa Dias
Subeditor: Lynette Brink
Editor: Anchen Coetzee