It’s South African Lockdown Day 35 — the last day of the “Level 5” lockdown before we move to “Level 4”.
If you live in South Africa, you probably already know most of the country is freaking out. Last night, the Minister of Cooperative Governance Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma announced the official Level 4 guidelines, and there were some surprises.
Here are some of the most notable announcements from the speech:
- Cigarettes and tobacco: The government reversed its initial pronouncement that the cigarette ban would be lifted in Level 4. After putting the draft regulations out for public comment last weekend (an action I don’t think most South Africans were aware of), the government decided to continue the cigarette ban after all. The sale of alcohol is also still banned.
- Exercise: As President Ramaphosa announced last week, exercise will be allowed during Level 4, but only under strict conditions. Those conditions are stricter than expected. We will be allowed to exercise within five kilometers of our homes, but only between 6 and 9 a.m.
- Curfew: Although Minister Dlamini-Zuma did not use the word “curfew”, she made it clear everyone must stay home between 8 p.m. and 5 a.m., unless they have a permit stating otherwise.
- Recycling: Both formal and informal recycling will be allowed under Level 4. (I was really happy to hear about the informal recycling part.)
- Restaurants: Restaurants are allowed to re-open but for food and meal delivery only.
In addition to the above, the most important changes under Level 4 are that many business, industry, and retail sectors will re-open. Schools will also re-open under a very gradual, phased approach between May and July.
The country is in an uproar over many of the items above — especially the cigarette ban, the exercise rules, and the curfew. People were losing their minds on social media last night, with accusations flying about government incompetence, President Ramaphosa’s impotence in the face of ANC and EFF forces, and Minister Dlamini-Zuma’s reported connection to black-market tobacco smugglers.
I also felt (and still feel) quite upset. I think reversing course on the cigarette ban ending — after everyone had gotten their hopes up about it — was an incredibly stupid and cruel decision, regardless of the real motivation. The one thing that’s made me feel safe and confident up until now has been the government’s decisiveness and relative consistency in messaging. Those feelings of safety and confidence have now dissipated.
The exercise rule also makes no sense to me. It’s winter in South Africa and the sun doesn’t rise in Joburg until 6:30 a.m. (In Cape Town it’s even worse: Sunrise is currently at 7:30 a.m. and growing later.) Why force everyone to crowd onto the streets at the same time? And what does this rule mean for people who want/need to walk to the shops at other times of the day?
I didn’t watch the speech last night. I just read comments about it on social media and heard things from friends via WhatsApp. I woke up in the middle of the night and suddenly felt suffocated — paralyzed with fear that every aspect of life in South Africa is now being dictated by a corrupt government oligarchy, which doesn’t have to answer to anyone. We’re all stuck inside our homes and no one can leave or do anything about anything.
Powerlessness is very scary.
I tried listening to soothing sleep music. I tried focusing on silence, or the sound of Trixie purring on my chest. I tried and failed not to look at my phone. I couldn’t get back to sleep for hours.
At some point in the wee hours of the morning, I heard the Muslim call to prayer wafting from the mosque in Emmarentia. I’m hardly ever able to hear it — only when the breeze is blowing just so.
It’s Ramadan, I thought. That’s when I drifted off.
In the morning I decided to watch Minister Dlamini-Zuma’s speech. I listened to all 45 minutes of it, even the end part in Zulu (which I can’t understand but like the sound of). And while I still disagree and feel very scared and upset about what’s happening, listening to the speech calmed me.
The minister brought up a few points I hadn’t considered, like that rolling and sharing handmade cigarettes can quickly spread the virus. (Again, I’m not saying I agree with this. It’s just something I hadn’t thought of. Also I’m very fortunate not to be addicted to nicotine and can’t speak on behalf of those who are.) She really didn’t explain the rationale behind the exercise rules but oh well.
Yes, it’s almost certainly true that various members of the government have unethical intentions and are using this crisis to their advantage. This behavior is most certainly happening in nearly every country in the world, except maybe Iceland or New Zealand. (Don’t even get me started about America.) It’s all fucking terrifying.
But I feel a bit better after informing myself in a simple, logical way. It helps me to think about what I can and can’t control. Right now I can’t control much.
Tomorrow I’ll be out on the street at 7 a.m., shivering, walking within a five-kilometer radius with my mask on and waving to the neighbors. Hope to see you out there.
Today’s Worthy Cause
It’s the end of the month. If you’re able to, please pay your domestic workers, gardeners, babysitters, personal trainers, hairdressers, barbers, nail technicians, and all the others you normally depend on for these valuable services. They’re not able to work right now but they still need to eat.