WATCH | Life on the breadline: Covid-19's cruel frontline

Working-class Capetonians stood four-square behind the coronavirus lockdown on Tuesday - even though they have no idea how they will survive it.

Thandeka Mbona chatted to a fellow commuter at Cape Town's central bus terminus as they waited for the next bus to Gugulethu.

Their conversation was the sombre one being replicated millions of times across the country as streets slowly empty ahead of the lockdown, which starts at midnight on Thursday.

A taxi driver on Cape Town's station deck ponders an uncertain future as SA heads into a three-week Covid-19 lockdown from midnight on Thursday.
A taxi driver on Cape Town's station deck ponders an uncertain future as SA heads into a three-week Covid-19 lockdown from midnight on Thursday.
Image: Esa Alexander

“We are worried about the informal settlement areas. There is no clean sanitation there. No flushing toilets, as we all know. Those are the things that really raises our concern,” said Mbona.

“What measures is our government going to take to assist those people? Are they going to be provided with sanitisers and things like wipes and masks?

“You find a family of eight in a small shack. Those are our concerns. The communities themselves, the townships, they are not clean, they are not healthy.”

Mbona said the chances of a successful lockdown in SA's poorest communities were 50/50. "Germs are all over in the township, we just don’t know.”

She is uncertain about whether the government will be able to support millions of unemployed people already living below the breadline.

She was also concerned about shift workers, labourers, those who are self-employed and those who barely subsist.

“Are people going to be paid for sitting at home because of this pandemic? That’s where our main concern is,” she said.

She watched President Cyril Ramaphosa's televised speech to the nation on Monday night with shock. To her, it signalled that we really are in trouble.

“It means that we should not take this coronavirus as child’s play, it is something serious that can really affect our lives. It’s not something to take lightly. We need to follow the measures that we are given: wash our hands every 20 minutes with water and soap, we must have sanitiser,” she said.

“But looking at the high rate of unemployment, other people don’t have money to buy sanitisers or masks. Some areas don’t have water.”

Everyone may not have access to a TV or a radio. Mbona said the president’s message was likely to spread through word of mouth. Some would get it, some might not.

She was talking about people like self-employed Nontobeko Gogontya, who runs a food stall at Cape Town's massive station deck taxi rank.

She told SowetanLIVE's sister publication TimesLIVE she would come into town on Friday to see whether she could find customers. She lived from hand to mouth, she said, and her 12 children would die of hunger if she did not keep earning

Nontobeko Gogontya runs a food stall at Cape Town's station deck taxi rank.
Nontobeko Gogontya runs a food stall at Cape Town's station deck taxi rank.
Image: Anthony Molyneax

“We are self-employed. There is no one who is going to support us. We are here to support our children, so during this shutdown, we are going to die before this virus,” she said.

“We don’t even have money for a week. I can’t stay at home even a week without working. At the moment I don’t have anything in my cupboard. I don’t have food. Even the business is not running. Each and every day I must bring something home.”

Gogontya believes taxi drivers will venture into the city centre to bring in essential staff like nurses or police officers.

“I will try to come here. I won’t have customers but most of the time I depend on taxi drivers. I don’t know whether the taxis will come, but I will come to see,” she said.

“The shutdown will kill us. The president must support us with food for the coming 30 days - food and money."

Mfuleni taxi driver Siyavuya Mpegesi said Thursday would be the minibus industry's last day of operations. He too is worried about where his next meal will come from once the police and army enforce the restriction on movement.

Taxis wait to take Cape Town's commuters home on the station deck on Tuesday. From Friday, this is likely to be empty space.
Taxis wait to take Cape Town's commuters home on the station deck on Tuesday. From Friday, this is likely to be empty space.
Image: Esa Alexander

“I watched the president’s speech. It’s the right thing to do because it’s the only way to control this virus. The problem is now, since we are working on a no-work-no-pay basis, it’s a problem for us. But the measures are a good thing,” he said.

“I’m not sure what’s going to happen. I was going to go to the Eastern Cape on Thursday because there is a funeral and I have to take the people to the funeral. I don’t know whether I will be able to continue with that or what.

“We are not going to drive around after Thursday. We are going to stay at home. But there is no money saved up. We will just stay at home, watch TV, sleep, wake up, go to the fridge to see what there is to eat and then go back to bed.”

Textile worker Sofia Moses, from Strandfontein, said she had converted her garage into a working space where she could still cut material for the company she works for.

Wilson Masango, a hotel worker from Gatesville, said he would take the time locked indoors to spend time with his children.

“I think the message from the president yesterday is very clear. We didn’t plan for this, we were caught by surprise, but anyway, we will just stay home and watch TV with my kids and play games,” he said.

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