Long queues in Khayelitsha amid growing infection rates

Long snaking queues outside SASSA offices were the order of the day under the lockdown level 5 & 4. Archive Photo by Lilita Gcwabe

The numbers of those infected by the coronavirus in Khayelitsha are growing alarmingly as residents fail to practice social distancing while they queue for food parcels and submit applications for jobs.

On day 34 of the lockdown around the country, the area around Khayelitsha Mall including the Khayelitsha District Hospital, Harare police station and Michael Mapongwana Community Health Centre was a hive of activity with snaking queues and people not observing social distancing as part of the precautions against COVID-19.

The longest queue was outside the South African Social Security Agency (Sassa) offices, followed by shoppers wanting to get into the supermarkets at the mall. People stood in queues to receive food parcels at the Sassa offices, while those waiting outside Khayelitsha hospital were there to apply for jobs that turned out to be a rumour sparked by an “incorrectly circulated and consequently withdrawn” internal memo according to the hospital.

At Harare police station young people queued to have their documents certified so that they could apply for the rumoured jobs at Khayelitsha District Hospital.

SASSA officials preparing the parcels for those in need.

56-year-old Yoliswa Shoba said that she came to the Sassa offices at around 04:00 in the morning so that she could beat the queue. She has been coming to the offices to try renew her disability grant. “I have been coming to have my disability grant renewed since it expired on the 6th of April. I was getting temporary disability grant because I have arthritis, asthma and diabetes. I’m not working and no one works in my household,” said the mother of two. “One of my daughters was doing internship at one of the health centres in Khayelitsha but because of the lockdown, she has not worked or got a stipend. The food parcels are going to help for the moment but I still need to renew my disability grant.” She has been getting assistance with food from her sister who has employment as a sleep-over domestic worker in Bellville.

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Yoliswa Shoba from Site B collecting her parcel. The food parcel includes mealie-meal, flour, sugar, tinned fish, milk, beans, soap and sanitary pads.

Former taxi driver and currently working as a wastepicker, David Ngemntu said that he heard about the food parcels on radio. He had also been coming to the Sassa offices to get help since informal wastepicking has been affected by the lockdown. “I have been unemployed for five years now. I was working as a taxi driver and currently my family and I have been collecting recyclables to sell. We collect cans and plastic and go sell them in Lansdowne. But because of the lockdown, I have not been able to sell because the buyback centres are closed,” said the 57-year-old father of three. “The Lansdowne buyback centre pays better than the ones we have in the township but I have to hire a bakkie to take the bags,” he said.

Makhaza resident and seasonal farmworker, Sibabalwe Sopitsho, said that she has also been coming to the Sassa offices to try and have the grant for her sister’s child transferred to her. “My sister went to work as a seasonal worker in Gauteng and she never came back. She left her child behind and I have been coming to get the grant transferred to me as I’m her guardian,” said the 26-year-old. According to Sopitsho, they live on her father’s old age pension. “My father’s grant has to pay for everything as I’m not working at the moment; it has to buy food and pay for burial covers. I normally work as a seasonal worker in De Doorns, she said.

Sibabalwe Sopitsho (in pink) repacking her groceries before heading back home to Makhaza.

Social distancing was not being observed anywhere even though the number of coronavirus cases in Khayelitsha has been increasing significantly. According to the Western Cape Premier, Allan Winde, as of Tuesday the 28th of April, there were 232 cases in Khayelitsha compared to 158 reported the previous day. The Western Cape has become the epicentre of the virus and according to the Health Minister, Zweli Mkhize, it could be essential workers that are driving the infection rate.

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