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No room to socially distance but life goes on

People spend time playing cards in Makause, an informal settlement in Germiston on the East Rand, during the national lockdown to stop the spread of coronavirus.
People spend time playing cards in Makause, an informal settlement in Germiston on the East Rand, during the national lockdown to stop the spread of coronavirus.
Image: Thulani Mbele

Ten or so gamblers stand around a table and do their thing at - Makause informal settlement in Primrose, Germiston, on the East Rand. Identical scenes repeat themselves at various points in the settlement in clear contravention of the regulations set out by the government for the 21-day lockdown.

But there is little members of the community could do or say as they felt helpless and fearful about contracting the deadly coronavirus.

It is also business as usual for informal traders, and people are roaming the streets despite the lockdown.

Yesterday marked day 3 of the lockdown which came into effect at midnight on Thursday, and poor communities such as hostel dwellers and informal settlement residents feel helpless and said the conditions they live under are making it difficult for them to comply with the regulations to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

"If coronavirus can come here, it will wipe us out," said General Moyo, organiser of the Makause Community Development Forum. "Life is difficult for us here. As you can see, it is Makause as usual. It is business as usual. People are not taking these restrictions seriously. There is no social distancing. It is difficult for people living here to comply.

"In just one yard there can be 18 families living together. Even for anyone who wants to self-isolate, it is difficult here. We also have a challenge with water. There are about 20,000 people living here and only 13 taps that supply water.

"We see in the news that other municipalities are providing more water, here nothing of that sort is happening."

At the entrance of the settlement is a pile of garbage and flies that have engulfed the space. Next to the dump site are informal traders selling vegetables. Not far from the traders is a communal tap with a queue of residents trying to get water.

It is as busy as usual. People are gambling on the streets while others are coming back from shopping at a nearby supermarket.

In Kliptown, Soweto, Penalty Machona shared Moyo's sentiments, saying it was difficult to curb the virus in his community.

Machona was sitting outside his shack with a neighbour lamenting the conditions they live in. "We live in a shack and it's hot. I can't sit inside the whole day because of the heat.

"I understand that the president wants us to stay indoors so that we can prevent the spread of the virus, but we can't because there are too many of us in this area."

Dozens of people were seen scattered on the streets against government's appeal for residents to remain indoors. "We try to abide [by the rules] to the best of our abilities but government must also understand that we do not have the means to comply. We don't want to die but what else can we do?"

At Nancefield Hostel in Soweto, less than 10 people could be seen on the streets in a usually bustling area.

Bika Sibisi, who fixes tyres in the area, said he did not wish to contract the deadly virus that has killed thousands worldwide.

"I don't want to bear witness to what is happening out there in the world. I know that this is serious because the country has been in a lockdown. I am not making an income, but I believe things will be better afterwards. Our lives are more important than money."

In Daveyton, East Rand, residents said they were adhering to the regulations but had transport challenges.

Mpumelelo Msinga said he waited for more than 30 minutes for a taxi to go and buy groceries. Taxi driver Mzimela Ndlela said he would not be getting paid for .

"I usually make R550 for a single load to Johannesburg and about R5,000 a day but all that is on pause because commuters are very few." - Additional reporting by Promise Marupeng