Alexandra Township
Alexandra Township

Remember how former president Thabo Mbeki was pilloried for pointing out a pretty obvious thing — that SA is a country of two nations: one rich and white, the other poor and black?

Never before has this theory been so palpably illustrated now that SA is in the grips of coronavirus-inspired fear and uncertainty. Some middle-class people in the suburbs can’t understand why people in the townships and shacklands won’t stay indoors and obey the regulations.

What we lose sight of is that most people survive hand-to-mouth. Living in overcrowded conditions, they don’t have enough money to buy in bulk.

Even if they had money, there would be no space, let alone fridges, to store their food. So they have to venture out almost every day to get food, with whatever money they have been able to scrape together on any given day.

To these people, social distancing and self-isolation is a bad joke. In Yeoville, it is not uncommon to find a room meant for one person being subdivided by curtains so it can accommodate three couples.

In other, even more desperate instances, people take sleeping shifts: while one person is at work during the day, the other uses the room to sleep.

When the first person returns from work, the one who’d been sleeping gets out of bed, dresses and goes to work. And the bed is immediately taken over by the one who had just returned. These people are not related, they are not a couple. They just use the same bed at different times.

We are not writing about luxury restaurants now. We are talking survival

During the weekend, when they are both home, they can’t stay indoors. They hang out in front of the building: I am sure you’ve seen people standing around in front of buildings and you thought they were just chilling. They have nowhere to go.

I’ve always known of these dynamics. But they have taken on a new meaning with the Covid-19 outbreak.

In Alexandra, which is just across the road from Sandton where I live, overcrowding is even worse. The latest statistics show that 26,000 people occupy dwellings that are squashed into 1km². I know it’s hard to believe. But check all available sources on this, they say exactly the same thing. If you’ve been to Alex it’s easier to believe.

Under such circumstances, social distancing is clearly impossible. And now someone has tested positive for Covid-19 in Alexandra and five people are in quarantine.

The day before lockdown began, I said a prayer for the people of Alex. Then I went out to buy my last pre-lockdown bunny chow from Curry and All at The Wedge Shopping Centre in Morningside, Joburg.

The woman after me ordered 12 bunnies.

"Having a pre-lockdown party?" I asked. She said: "I’m going to freeze them and enjoy them over the next two weeks."

Good idea, thought I. So I bought four for my freezer.

The following day, with lockdown in effect, I drove around my neighbourhood, buying more foodstuffs for the long haul.

The two Woolies branches near me, in Morningside and Gallo Manor, had both run out of red meat. All they had was pork and chicken. Also out of stock were tinned foods.

Pick n Pay at Morning Glen Mall still had lots of red meat, but had run out of eggs.

Fizzy drinks were scarce at all the shops I went to, except for the Pick n Pay in Woodmead, which was still well stocked in that department.

I did warn you that this column would change in keeping with Covid-19 realities. We are not writing about luxury restaurants now. We are talking survival.

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