Reflections on the 21-day coronavirus lockdown in SA

Those of us who come out on the other side will never be the same again

In Summary

• Whatever happens, this virus is going to change the world and how we see each other

A man walks in a deserted town
A man walks in a deserted town

As I write this on Tuesday night, 48 or so hours before the whole of South Africa goes into lockdown, the Western Cape province where I live now has 125 confirmed Covid-19 infections.

Most of our infections remain cases that have been imported from other countries, but there are cases where the patient has no travel history.

The basics for the lockdown are that all residents will be required to stay in their homes for three weeks from 11.59pm on Thursday night, unless they work for an essential service or like me for a news media organisation. 


I remember in matatus, when the "sliding door operator" wanted to squeeze more passengers into an already crowded 15-seater, he (more often than not it was a man) would say, "Watu wapendane." In the era of the coronavirus, where the new mantra is "together apart," kupendana won't work in that sense. 

However, the fact of the matter is anyone who shares their living space, be it with a spouse, child, children, parent or parents other relatives or just friends or housemates, will have to learn extreme tolerance to survive three weeks (perhaps even more if the authorities deem it necessary) of no other company but those people. 

It may be alright if it's two people in a huge house, but imagine a family of four in a one-room space with a curtain to divide the room. Even in a bigger space, it will be torture, no matter how much you love each other.

It will be even worse for people in abusive relationships. Three weeks of close contact could literally end in murder.

Speaking of death, before the news of the lockdown, a funeral business here put out a notice suggesting that to keep the virus at bay, "intimate funerals" would be encouraged. I was tempted to laugh. When did Africans ever do five or 10 people at a funeral? 

But then I thought about it for a bit and perhaps it's not a terrible idea. In fact, I'm ready to campaign for intimate funerals to become the new normal. 

Imagine how much more meaningful a send-off would be if only those who were close to you and really cared about you attended, instead of the random types, including people who have no idea who the deceased was, who make up the numbers?


For people who have served time in jail, this lockdown concept may not be desired but it won't be new either. 

Among my generation and slightly older Kenyans,  the closest we've experienced to this was the brief period of dusk-to-dawn curfew after the August 1982 coup. Compared to this lockdown, that was child's play.

Whatever happens, this virus is going to change the world and how, those of us who come out on the other side, see it and each other.  

I said to my editor earlier that perhaps this will make people think about the governments they choose and their priorities - health, education and decent housing and economic growth for all, over the usual nonsense of tribes and clans and dynasties and hustlers. But, of course, that is too much to hope for.

Edited by T Jalio