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Lockdown reflections Day 2

LOCKDOWN REFLECTIONS DAY 2: Lockdown is a painful disruption to the world and our lives. But my lockdown is taking place in a beautiful, well stocked home, with my whole family and our domestic helper and her family. We have space to spread out and be alone when we want to, and all come together in different locations in the house when we want to do that. We have food and drink, and the money and means to go to the shops for quick-dash replenishment runs when we need to. We have WiFi and TV and music and a garden and ...

Lockdown is tough. But not that tough, really, for me.

My reflection as I wake up on a slightly chilly and overcast morning is about all the people I know and love who live in townships, squatter camps and sub-optimal conditions. How do you keep a social distance when you live so close to so many people? How do you wash your hands when you have no running water? Where do you go if you start feeling sick? How do you stock up for lockdown when you live hand to mouth? And when the only person in your family group who had some income has just been told they’ve lost their job because their employer has to cut costs somehow, and apparently you are just a cost to them?

Here is the stark reality for those people in South Africa who ask “why do we need to keep talking about apartheid and the past”: in what ways is South Africa different right now on 28 March 2020 from what it was on 28 March 1980? Yes, we have some black neighbours (do you know any of yours, if you have any?). Yes, some black people are locked down in houses like mine. But most are still caught in desperate poverty, are subjected to public health systems, are limited to using a broken public transport system, and are now confined in their township dwellings.

Even worse, for everyone’s safety, they see the police and the military enforcing the restriction of their movement. I cannot even begin to think how much PTSD that invokes in people my age in the townships. It must be a level of pain and anxiety added to everything else that makes this Covid-19 lockdown even more heartbreaking.

I truly hope these 21 (and probably more) days of lockdown allow us to reflect more on the devastating wealth inequality we have in South Africa. And whatever happens in the townships during this time, let’s remember to look at it not us “them”, but as “us”. Whatever happens in the townships, those are fellow South African citizens doing the very best they can do with the means they have in the circumstances they’re in. That is “us”.

Covid-19 is the clearest illustration we have of what it means to be a society. The richest people in South Africa are only as protected from Covid-19 as the poorest people are. The fate of those of us in our beautiful homes is completely intertwined with the fate of the people in shacks.

Remember this when we come back to talking about NHI in a few years time. Remember this when we pick up the land reform conversation. Remember this when you drive the roads with the taxis again. Remember this when we try and enact equitable labour laws, including minimum wages. Remember this when you rebuild your business and your life - starting from the base you’ll still have.

Most of all, please look at our country today, and realise that we have to keep talking about apartheid because its legacy is still very much alive. I look around and see that not much has changed in a society’s structures, our spacial planning, our provision of services to the poor, and our connections with our fellow citizens in 30 years.

I am grateful for a wide group of friends and colleagues that have helped me recognise this in the past decade or so. I am ashamed that what I have attempted to do in response has hardly seemed to make a difference to the system at all. My heart breaks for all those in our townships and those who are displaced on this, Day 2 of lockdown.

Maybe Covid-19 is both the wake up call and the reset opportunity we needed. Let’s not waste this crisis moment.


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