Learning to cherish loved ones while adapting to an online life

My 10-month-old repeatedly slapped his hand against the window pane this morning as his dad held him to observe the main road. (Photo by Sumeya Gasa)

South Africa went into a 21-day lockdown on Friday 27 March in the hope of blocking the spread of Covid-19. The lockdown was extended for two weeks, then Level 4 kicked in to be followed by Level 3 on Monday.  These reflections are part of a series by writers monitoring stay-at-home life in various neighbourhoods.

See  Pre-Lockdown Reflections here; Day 1 here; Day 7;  Day 14; Day 21 and Day 28 here, day 35 here,  day 42 here, day 49 here, and day 56 here



My partner and 10-month-old are my people, my ‘lockdown squad’

Emmarentia, Johannesburg: There are many things I have been doing to stay sane since this lockdown began. Mainly, I have tried to keep busy with a routine from the moment I wake up until I go to bed. 

One of the first things I do is take a look at what is happening outside. I usually do this through the window, but on Thursday, 28 May 2020, I stepped out onto my balcony to take a closer look. Day 63 is the first Thursday where I have chosen to observe through the window. The cold front that has gripped Johannesburg has been made worse by the fact that I live close to a dam. 

Another thing I’ve been doing religiously is exercising indoors. I have never been one for physical activity, but for the first time in my life, I have established a consistent exercise routine. 

Then, there is work. Here, there are good days and bad days. Some days, my mind is clear and I manage to stick to what I set out to do. But after the brain fog settled in and the anxiety increased, it became harder to stay focused. But I feel I am slowly working my way back to gaining control over my fears and sadness over the pandemic that has disrupted our lives.

But one fact that has remained consistently true is that I would be having a much harder time with everything if it weren’t for my partner and our 10-month-old. They are my people, my “lockdown squad”. 

This morning, I held my baby as we observed the outside world through the window and he started slapping his tiny hand against the window pane. So I asked his dad to take over carrying him so I could snap an image of my son whose action represented the essence of being in a lockdown during an icy morning. – Sumeya Gasa


Chrysantha is my maternal grandmother’s name

Buying chrysanthemums also forced me to face a few fears I’d been burying deep inside. 28 May 2020. (Photo: Sandisiwe Shoba)

Rondebosch, Cape Town: After my failed attempt at raising an orchid, I’ve abandoned the endeavour and bought a new bunch of flowers – fragrant white chrysanthemums. 

For a while, I’d been in denial about the orchid’s demise, hoping the withering stems would turn fleshy and green once more, but I’ve accepted that it’s time to move on. 

As melodramatic as my attachment to flowers may seem, they’re really a reminder of the ebb and flow of living through this pandemic. 

At some point, you have to let go of the anger and frustration of feeling trapped, and move on to a more positive mindset. You know the old cliche – wake up and smell the roses (or just the flowers in this case). 

Strangely, buying chrysanthemums also forced me to face a few fears I’d been burying deep inside. You see, Chrysantha is my maternal grandmother’s name. Little did I know that seeing those flowers perched on my window sill would trigger a flood of tears.

It finally hit me. I may lose her. 

Worst of all, with us being on opposite sides of the country, I might not get a chance to say goodbye. 

So many of us are living with these fears, and as the death toll rises, grief and trauma are spreading like wildfire. While some celebrate the easing of restrictions, others are mourning. Others still are praying with every wisp of their spirit for loved ones to recover. 

But there is a silver lining. Being acutely aware of her mortality means I call more often. I cherish hearing her voice and laughing about the mundane together. I feel bold enough to tell her what she means to me instead of waiting for a eulogy to celebrate her life. 

And those chrysanthemums, well, I’m Googling the best way to care for them. I think this time, my flowers will thrive. – Sandisiwe Shoba


‘Days we was forced to fast, prayed for rapid nights’

This album has kept me occupied since it was released at the beginning of May 2020. In it, I’ve found themes that ring true for many South Africans during the lockdown. (Photo: Yanga Sibembe)

Johannesburg South, Gauteng: I’ve spent the past week dissecting an album by one of my favourite artists, Ka. 

The American rapper released the album, Descendants of Cain, at the beginning of May 2020. But due to the aesthetic metaphors, brooding imagery and elaborate rhyme schemes, I’ve had to give it a few spins in order to grasp some of the themes interwoven into the 11-track album. 

The offering is a concept album laced with religious imagery (particularly Christian). And as the title suggests, it is inspired by the story of Cain and how he murdered his own brother in the bible. 

Ka uses that allegory of brother on brother violence to pose the question of whether, as humans, we were always damned to kill each other. 

The 47-year-old rapper drills down further on this assertion by pointing the magnifying glass to gang violence, as well as brutality at the hands of law enforcement officers in America – using his own experiences of growing up in the neighbourhood of Brownsville, New York.

To illustrate his point, he says things like:

“As teens bought full magazines, if we had an issue

We all had beef, but for dinner having gristle.”


“You know my stock was only good as my ingredients

The system only leaned on us, never showed us lenience.”

Another theme explored on the album – which drives its message home with the consistent use of sombre pianos and strings – is of how people in the “hood” live from hand to mouth, and sometimes even starve. 

Ka illustrates this with lines such as: “Days we was forced to fast, prayed for rapid nights.”

This is also true here in South Africa’s townships and informal settlements – and even more so now, during this lockdown. Many have gone to bed on an empty stomach.

And with the country’s 29% unemployment rate predicted to skyrocket to as much as 50% during 2020 because of the impact of the coronavirus, people who were already suffering greatly before Covid-19, will suffer even more. – By Yanga Sibembe


Puff and pass: Sharing smokes is the norm

(Photo: Gallo Images/Misha Jordaan)

Protea, Soweto: The exorbitant cost of cigarettes in Soweto under lockdown has put them out of reach of a number of regular smokers. But what this has done is force people to share a scarce “commodity” that is freely available on the black market — raising fears about spreading the coronavirus Covid-19.

Cigarettes are as accessible in the black market as they have ever been. Both the Johannesburg Metro Police Department (JMPD) and members of the South African Police Service (SAPS) ignore people selling illegal cigarettes.

The sellers have found a market in malls and other busy areas such as taxi ranks. They hang around in awkward corners and accost individuals they suspect might be smokers. The stashes of cigarettes are carried in small, shabby bags and black plastic bags.

The illegal cigarettes in Soweto are also sold in many local and foreign-owned spaza shops, where law enforcement officials have not set foot. Storekeepers use their discretion in terms of who they sell to. They can refuse to sell cigarettes to one customer, but then sell them to the next one.

Well-known brands such as Courtleigh temporarily disappeared from the black market during lockdown, but are now back on sale.

A loose cigarette costs R10 and a packet of 20 goes for R160.

It’s the same for drugs like nyaope and dagga.

Because when people “zol”, going cold turkey or watching one’s health is not an option. But sharing is caring. Bheki C Simelane.


A friend is attending a virtual wedding, another a memorial on Skype

Life is still happening although under different circumstances. A friend is attending a virtual wedding this weekend. (Photo: Karabo Mafolo)

Mowbray, Cape Town: I can’t believe it’s been 63 days since lockdown started. At first, it felt like life had stopped, there were no clubs to go to, no sunny beach days to look forward to, no weddings to attend. It felt weird having to adjust, but I (naively) told myself that one day I’d have all those things back. 

Now, it’s two months since I’ve been out and even longer since I went to the beach, but life is still happening, although under different circumstances. This weekend, a friend is attending a virtual wedding, a few weeks ago, another friend attended a memorial on Skype, another friend is adjusting from being on campus every day to having all her classes online. 

We’re living through a pandemic and I guess we just have to adjust to not physically being at a wedding, but being able to witness your loved ones big day. 

Some days are okay and some days aren’t, but this weekend, my friends and I are planning to have a virtual tea party. We’ll be doing our make-up and catching up just like we used to do. I’m looking forward to it because I’ve been living in track pants and pyjamas, but it feels strange having to rely on technology to connect when we’d see each other every other week. – Karabo Mafolo


I am never going to take any moments for granted anymore

My memory board filled with photographs, old tickets and quotes given to me by friends and colleagues reminds that I should never take anything for granted, especially time with people I care about. (Photo: Chanel Retief)

West Rand, Gauteng: What I thought was only going to be maybe a month of staying at home has now turned into 63 days.

And the scary part is I feel like the days have both dragged on and flown  past simultaneously, if that’s possible. 

I have only left my house about three times and all because my mother forced me to go get groceries for her because she wants me to “get some fresh air”. I personally think she sent me out because she thinks I’ve gone crazy. 

My sister hasn’t seen the outside of our front gate since way before lockdown even started. She is prone to respiratory infections. She has been holding up much better than me. I asked her if she misses her friends, if she couldn’t wait to get back to school and if she was tired of being trapped in a house with three adults, and nowhere to go. 

She laughed at me before saying: “Yes I do, except for maybe school. But I feel like I have got to hang out with you more, so that’s cool. We didn’t do that much before.” 

Before lockdown, 63 days ago, I felt that I didn’t spend enough time with my friends and too much of it at home with my family. But when I was with my family, I was always distracted by other stuff like my phone or work or Netflix (although the last one hasn’t changed). 

But my sister, as young as she is, is wise. She opened my eyes to the reality that life was never going to be the same again. However, grabbing “real” moments with ones you love is probably going to be a lot more difficult so when you do, live in that moment with them – i.e: don’t be on your phone the whole time etc. – By Chanel Retief. DM



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