‘People are not taking this virus seriously’ – Voices from townships under level 3 lockdown

Members of the police step in to help maintain social distancing among patients waiting to be seen at the clinic. Pictures: Black Star/Spotlight
Members of the police step in to help maintain social distancing among patients waiting to be seen at the clinic. Pictures: Black Star/Spotlight

South Africa moved to level 3 of the Covid-19 lockdown this week, meaning significantly relaxed regulations. In many townships in Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape, residents have mixed views on life under lockdown. Luvuyo Mehlwana visits some townships and speaks to the residents

By Tuesday, the Eastern Cape had 4 324 people who had tested positive for Covid-19 and 88 people in the province had died from the virus.

This meant the province had the second-highest death count of South Africa’s nine provinces and the second-highest number of confirmed cases – although the number of cases in Gauteng was not far behind.

The Nelson Mandela Bay Metro had 1 275 confirmed Covid-19 cases, 750 recoveries and 29 deaths, according to figures released by the provincial department of health on Tuesday.

East London recorded 1 294 confirmed cases, 663 recoveries and 13 deaths.

Despite the increasing numbers, for many township residents it had been business as usual.

I don’t see why people are rushing back to work while numbers are like this. People are not taking this virus seriously and I smell trouble.
Nikita Jenneker

Zolelwa Wakeni (32), from Mdantsane in East London, said in her area there was no sign of a lockdown.

“People are moving freely, anytime and there is no sign of either police or soldiers. This lockdown is not necessary. It is business as usual.”

She said only a few people bothered to wear masks when they moved around the township.

“Township people are not used to staying at home doing nothing for a week, so two months of lockdown is too much for them.”

Choosing between safety and hunger

Nonceba Faye (65) wished it was business as usual.

Faye runs an informal business selling chickens at Njoli Square in Port Elizabeth.

Based on Stats SA’s labour force data released last year, Faye was one of more than 3 million people surviving on jobs in the informal sector.

“I don’t know how I feel about this lockdown because one has to choose between safety and hunger,” she said. “Sitting at home means no income; again I’m running a risk of contracting the virus if I go out to trade.”

Faye said in the early stages of lockdown, her business took a dip.

“Bear in mind I relied on making an income on a daily basis by selling chickens. For the past 36 years the stall has been my only income up until I started receiving my pension when I was 60 years old.

“I’m not saying life was easy before the pandemic, but at least I had a guaranteed income. And even though business was already suffering I knew that I would be able to feed my family,” she said.

As a pensioner Faye is among those most at risk of getting severely sick from Covid-19, but it was sustaining her livelihood that worried her most.

“Even though lockdown has affected me badly and it has made it difficult to make ends meet, I’m happy that government relaxed [the] regulations. It means there is light at the end of the tunnel and I believe business will pick up once again,” said Faye.

Waiting for medicine

Patients wait at the Max Madlingozi Clinic in Kwazakhele

At a clinic in Zwide in Port Elizabeth Zanyiwe Tose (48), a resident, blamed the clinic for not having a clear strategy on how to deal with patients during the lockdown.

She said the clinic was closed after a staff member tested positive for Covid-19.

“Since then coming to the clinic is a waste of time because we are standing outside the gates for a long time and wait for our names to be called. We are often turned back without any help,” she said.

Tose said she was concerned: “There is no social distancing. People are queueing along the clinic’s fence and we are sanitised only when we set foot on the premises. But outside people are ignoring social distancing principles and no one seems to care about that. Even clinic staff ... they don’t care. I think it is high time that the government introduced a new system of distributing chronic medication to reduce exposure for people who suffer from chronic illnesses.”

Tose hoped she would get her medicine.

“But there is a possibility I might not get my pills today after standing in this long queue the whole day and that alone discourages me from collecting my medication.

Patients sit outside the Kwamagxaki Clinic in Port Elizabeth

“We queue as early as 5am to be the first, but we will sit in this queue until late. When we ask them questions about their poor service delivery, they’ll say they are doing their best. But it is us who sit the whole day.”

When asked if the province was considering alternative ways to distribute medicine to chronically ill patients, Dr Mthandeki Xamlashe, the head of medical services in the province, said the department had a central chronic medicines dispensing distribution programme, but it had been “disrupted by Covid-19 at some collection points”.

“We also have the challenge of patients who do not want to use this service because of stigma, but we are working around the clock to educate our people about this programme that is aimed at reducing the number of patients flocking to clinics and hospitals and reducing waiting times.”

Xamlashe did not know how many patients in the province were registered for the programme.

Xamlashe said community health workers at clinics were given the task of educating people and monitoring social distancing at clinics.

Read: The battle against stigma in the Eastern Cape

On the day of Spotlight’s visit, people at some facilities brought their own chairs and were sitting close to one another in front of the gates at some clinics. Others were crowding next to the fences.

When asked about this, Xamlashe said people waited outside the gates to allow a few patients in at a time.

“A limited number is called inside to ensure there are not too many people in the clinic,” he said.

“It is everyone’s responsibility to practise good hygiene and prevent the virus from spreading. In our buildings it is standard practice to sanitise everyone entering the clinic.”

Not returning to church – yet

Julia Carelsen (61) from Gelvandale in Port Elizabeth said she did not believe South Africa would ever be the same again after lockdown.

She said the pandemic had exposed so many things, especially the “weakness of government”.

Carelsen said the government was “weak” for relaxing lockdown measures while the numbers of ill people were increasing.

“I go out only to collect my medication from the local clinic and my social grant [old age grant/pension].”

Carelsen said despite being an avid churchgoer, allowing worshippers back into church was a huge risk. Under level 3 of the lockdown regulations church attendance is allowed under certain conditions.

People are moving freely, anytime and there is no sign of either police or soldiers. This lockdown is not necessary. It is business as usual.
Zolelwa Wakeni

“I was born and raised in the Christian teachings, but for now the state is not normal for me and my family to return to church. I will continue to use my living room to praise and worship. You cannot open churches and schools when the numbers are this high, but when the numbers were low, churches and schools were closed,” said Carelsen.

An off-duty nurse, Nikita Jenneker (33), had the same reservations. Jenneker said level 3 was “going to kill a lot of people”.

“I don’t see why people are rushing back to work while numbers are like this. People are not taking this virus seriously and I smell trouble. People need to take care of themselves.”

On Sunday Sindiswa Gomba, health MEC in the Eastern Cape, said Covid-19 confirmed cases were increasing rapidly.

“If we don’t contain the spread of the pandemic in the province, within no time the Eastern Cape will surpass the Western Cape. The blaming game is over; we need to double our efforts to contain this virus in our province.”

This article was produced by Spotlight – health journalism in the public interest


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