At midnight of March 26, 2020, President Cyril Ramaphosa placed South Africa into a hard lockdown to halt the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic. After that, several regulations restricted our movement, forced us to be home and indoors at a certain time and forced us to wear masks outdoors. IOL‘s Two Years features the personal stories of our journalists and some of the biggest stories we covered over this period.
When the president announced the first lockdown, I was not yet a journalist at the time. I was a journalism student at Rhodes University. The announcement came just after Rhodes had decided to have midterm earlier than usual due to fears over the rising number of Covid-19 infections.
Around this time, I felt pretty anxious about the future, my future. Initially, I had naively believed that the lockdown would be just 21 days long, just as the president announced.
You know, just enough time for them to figure this virus out and produce some form of miracle vaccine or pill. You know how they always do it in movies? And as you can imagine, a few weeks and some empty toilet paper shelves later, I was gravely disappointed.
For me, the pandemic felt almost like grief. I went through all the stages — the denial, the bargaining and finally, the acceptance. The forced lockdown almost became something like an acquired taste. I just had so much of it that I accepted and appreciated it.
At home, daily, we overdosed on umhlonyane, our version of the miracle Madagascan herbal tonic; and nearly burned our faces off with steam infused with God knows what. My mother’s friend had a friend who told me that goat urine could cure Covid. I thank God we do not have goats around!
“You’re so different? You are not the Anita I know,” my mother said about a month in, with much concern in her voice and eyes. There I was, a stranger in her matchbox house, as I had not been with her for more than a few weeks in the last couple of years now.
She did not know me. I was now bold and had an opinion on everything. I was to her what the pandemic was to me, an acquired taste? She also had to go through the same cycle of grief. This is such a weird paradox because I promise you, I am my mother’s daughter.
“What happens if your brother wants to swim and it is cold outside?”
“Well, you let him.”
“And, when he gets sick, will it become my problem?” she asked in shock.
“Are you not his mother?” I said carelessly.
I remember seeing waves of emotions flash through her face. I think it was shock and confusion, and then I think an expression of realisation?
I think the Anita she thought she knew would have probably responded differently. More, confirmingly.
See, I have always been an expressive person, just that my voice throughout my entire childhood was carefully hidden in scrap papers buried deep under my old mattress. But now, I spoke, and she did not know how to deal with me.
It took her some months to adjust and learn me. I already knew her because her thoughts and opinions are generally unreserved.
Confined in the limited space, me suddenly unapologetic about my opinions. She has adjusted pretty well.