Guest contributor

As I sit here pondering about recent events and my experiences, I can’t help but enjoy this silence. Before I learned the term ‘social distancing’, my neighbourhood was fairly busy and one could hear cars and motorbikes speeding down Beyers Naude drive until the early hours of the morning.

These past few weeks have been extremely busy. And have been a very important moment in history for South Africans, and the rest of the world. The novel coronavirus has affected anyone and everyone in our country. The thought that terrifies me right now is that there will be collateral damage from the decisions that have been taken. Many businesses will be impacted and will have to close and many families may lose their Income. I am afraid.

But more than my fear, I am proudly South African! This thought is what motivates me to be better, to feel better. I am reminded that when we are pushed against the wall, we stand tall, we fight on.

We do have the ability to work together, I have witnessed it. In my community of Montgomery and Roosevelt Park extension, which is a very diverse community, members got together before there was even mention of a lockdown, to plan. The objective was to identify and create a database of vulnerable people including the elderly, people with disabilities, single parents, those who were in quarantine, and whoever else required support or assistance in the case of a national shutdown.

Their plans were not in vain, and even though it’s been only four days [at the time of writing], it has been quite effective. Patrollers go out and either purchase essential foods on their behalf or drop off pre-packed food parcels. Hand sanitisers, masks and gloves which were being sold at inflated prices were purchased and offered to community members at cost or most times given for free. The objective was not to make money but to assist everyone at large.

Since our company implemented remote working, I’ve been at home. I did not have to worry about crowds or mixing with people. We stayed indoors and it has been a blessing. Spending time with my family has been such an amazing experience. I’ve had to be a teacher, cook, baker and braaimaster. We’ve gotten used to this new style of life, where we have a routine but get a lot more done as we don’t have to worry about things like traffic, making school lunch, or waking up extra early to get the kids changed into school uniform. They still get to learn and play and my wife and I get to do our own work as well.

Helping out on social grant collection day

On Sunday evening our community patrol’s leader posted a message on our patroller WhatsApp group which mentioned that the Sophiatown police branch was looking for volunteers to assist at Sassa paypoints with crowd control on pension/grant collection day. After discussing and assessing the idea and considering the risks with my wife I chose to volunteer. There were a few of us from our community who volunteered and so we went through early on Monday morning. We met other volunteers from the Bosmont (BCP) and Coronation (CCP) community patrols.

For me it felt like a new experience. Very quickly I had got used to just being inside the safety of my home. It was just my family and myself all this time, so wearing gloves and a mask was somewhat unusual. We were deployed to the Newlands Shoprite which one can clearly see is situated in a very low-income area. Our objective was to implement social distancing. The line went on for almost 500m with very little space between each person. The pensioners had their own queue and certain till points were dedicated for Sassa grant collections.

There were long lines already by the time we got there. People were queuing from before 08h00. Some were there to collect grants or collecting on behalf of their parents or disabled family members at home; others were there to make ordinary purchases. Initially there was confusion as to how the line worked and who was allowed to collect grants and who wasn’t, but in a very short time this was resolved. The issue was communication. Once this was effectively established, order prevailed.

This is one of the reasons why I am proud to be a South African. Minister Lindiwe Zulu gave her report-back on the news about her experience at Sassa paypoints and I totally agree with her. The grantees and shoppers are the real heroes. Their patience and willingness to listen and respect one another is what made the job easy. We were able to keep people at least one metre apart. Lines were drawn on the pavement with chalk to help people to keep a safe distance.

No complaints despite the long queues

There was a gentleman who stood for more than an hour in the line; he was extremely patient, never complained or argued. I noticed him going in and exiting the store not long after entering. All he bought was a 2l Coke! I was astonished! I mentioned this to one of my fellow patrollers and said, “I would never waste so much time just to buy a coke! I’d rather go to a garage”. The patroller responded saying that for others every rand counts. The cost of buying at Shoprite compared to the garage is a big difference. This made me realise how fortunate I am as compared to others.

This incident led me to pay a closer attention to other shoppers. I saw that most just came to purchase basic/essential food items such as mielie meal, flour and rice. They buy the big 12.5kg bags so that it can last for the month. They then have to walk with this load or wait for a Tuk-Tuk to take them home or they hire the services of a person to push the trolley home for them. There was another patron which stood out for me and that was Aunty Rose. She is in her 60s or 70s but with the energy of a 20-year-old. She stood out because her shopping basket was full of sweets! She bought lots of Easter eggs for her grandchildren. A community patroller says she usually buys wine. Since alcohol sales are currently banned I guess she’s spending her money differently.

There were many stakeholders on site to ensure that grants were paid without hassle. I have to commend the individuals present as they worked tirelessly to ensure that everything went smoothly. The Department of Health officials were amazing. They ensured that safety inside and outside the store was top priority. JMPD were present. SAPS had cars coming continuously around to check if all was ok. The BCP and CCP patrollers were energetic and extremely helpful. The kindness and compassion showed by all today was something amazing to witness. I haven’t seen such compassion in such a long time.

The good, the bad and the ugly

The SASSA queue moved quite fast and by 12h99 we were done. I never thought that we would finish so early when I saw the queue early in the morning. But I guess we can expect this when everyone comes together to achieve one goal. These are good people!

After getting home, I thought that I would have some time to rest. I received a call requesting that I collect and deliver masks and face shields to the Charlotte Maxeke hospital, where there is a shortage at the moment. Doctors and nurses don’t have an adequate supply. The hospital’s procurement department have ordered but have not yet received the stock. The hospital is allowed to receive donations of equipment – however, this needs to be declared and given to a certain department/ Sadly the supplies don’t always make it to the intended recipient/department. This is bad! I collected about 300 masks from the Salaam Foundation who donated the N95 masks. This supply will only last a week, maybe two.

The hospital requires visors/face shields as this protects the healthcare workers from droplets which spread the coronavirus. The Covid-19 test can cause patients to throw up and this can be dangerous for those administering the test. The cost of this visor/shield is usually R60 – R70 but because it’s in demand some suppliers are selling them for R200! This, like the inflated costs for hand sanitiser, masks and so on, is just plain ugly! I urge everyone who comes across products with unjustified increases to report the sellers (the opportunists) to the Department of Trade and Industry!

What I’ve learnt from the past few weeks is that we should never take things for granted. What we have today may be gone tomorrow. We should never delay in doing good. Everyone will benefit if you act selflessly. I’ve seen the best come out of most people and that is what will stick with me.

My actions are not only about me; my actions affect everyone else. Our families are what’s important and we get so caught up in our daily life that we can easily neglect them. The lockdown is a way for families to spend more time together. Children are special and have the ability to understand the current challenge that we face. They too are willing to make a difference. We must genuinely want to assist others and we will triumph and get rid of the coronavirus as well all other challenges that we face!