How the extended lockdown is impacting on poor communities
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But now, the dream of even being able to pick up part-time or piece-meal jobs to eke out a plate of food daily, has vaporised with the rigid onset of the Covid-19 lockdown.
Life before lockdown suddenly seems not quite so bad for many, who miss going out to work to support their families.
Now, residents are despondent about their livelihood but also afraid of the coronavirus. Some believe the swarming flies, as constant here as the rumbling in their children’s bellies, could bring the virus into their shacks.
The stench of human faeces and urine steadfastly permeates the air blowing between the tin shacks. Every few minutes a resident seems to be throwing out a bucket of grey waste water that rushes along the street’s concrete curb, taking with it empty chips packets, bottles and other litter downstream.
Xolani Khumalo, a general worker in the construction industry, was sent home when the lockdown began with his final week’s pay in March, and nothing more.
“It’s gone now. Yesterday I borrowed R100 so I could buy maize meal and meat,” Khumalo said.
At month-end he will have to repay a whopping 30% in monthly interest, totalling R130. The lockdown may yet be lucrative for some sectors of the economy, if customers are able to meet their obligations.
Khumalo hopes to meet his debt repayment, but it depends on whether his unemployed wife in Ulundi can “hustle” to send him the money.
“My family might deposit money and if they do, I will repay the debt.”
He shakes his head, saying he was “distraught” when President Cyril Ramaphosa announced last Thursday that the lockdown would be extended until April 30.
“I thought I was going back to work and this would be over, ” Khumalo said.
He is hoping the government will help him with a food parcel.
Portia Mgxeawana, who works as a waitress in a restaurant in the CBD, is relying only on the R440 child social grant she will receive for her 2-year-old daughter on May 4. Her boyfriend, who lives with her, works in the clothing sector, and also has no income during lockdown.
And food is running out.
“It’s been very hard. I have food but it is little. I am saving and eating maybe twice a day,” Mgxeawana said.
“I was stressing too much when lockdown was extended. I had planned on going to work on April 17,” she said.
Mgxeawana believes it’s the government’s responsibility to provide food for people who can’t work because of the lockdown. Fortunately, her landlord has waived the R440 monthly rent for her shack.
Domestic worker Evelina Mokwena is worried about how she will feed her four children aged, 24, 20, 17 and 2. She is the sole breadwinner and has received no income since her last payment on March 27.
“It’s too difficult for me because the food I bought is finished and they’ve added two more weeks for us. I don’t know, really, I don’t know. I need to ask someone to give us food,” she said.
Mokwena desperately misses being able to get up and go to work.
“If lockdown is extended again we are going to die. It’s too bad, what are we going to do? All I am doing all day is sleeping - day and night. We are going to get sick because to sleep like this is not good. Please help us, we don’t know what we are going to do,” she said.
Non-governmental organisations like Black Sash and Pietermaritzburg Economic Justice and Dignity (PEJD) are equally concerned about the economic plight of poor people in South Africa like the Cato Manor community.
They believe the government needs to top up social grant payments and provide a basic income grant to struggling households.
“It’s so difficult because people are saying that hunger is going to kill us long before the coronavirus. The question is what is the nearest threat? Hunger is closer, but people are very serious about the virus and nervous as well,” PEJD lead researcher Julie Smith said.
“We are creating economic consequences that I don’t know if we are going to be able to get out of, but at the same time we have to try to prevent the spread of the virus.”
Smith believes the country could not bear a further extension of the lockdown because it doesn’t have the buffers of Western countries, such as decent salaries, social security, housing, water and electricity.
“I don’t think families will be able to cope. I’ve received a lot of voice notes from pensioners and some are saying the food will run out on 15 April, and others on 25 April, because the kids are at home and they just eat. They’re tapping into stokvel savings, and trying to get stokvel credit,” she said.
However, she said many poor people could not even turn to their local loan sharks as they already owed them money.
“Things are bad now and they are going to get much worse very fast, and that’s why government has to intervene quickly,” Smith said.
Black Sash national director Lynette Maart said she was concerned that people could not afford basic nutritious food and the R400million set aside by national government for social relief of distress was insufficient.
“You can have all the grand health schemes, but if you don’t have the basic health of good food, this can comprise the immune system quite quickly, especially now that we have internal transmission. It’s very hard for people in lockdown, and we need to get food and more money into households,” she said.
“They have not asked to be in lockdown - we know, lockdown is essential - but we can’t expect them to die in the lockdown. We are trying to apply pressure on the government for that basic income grant to happen.
“We’ve been asking for it for a long time,” she said.