While the South African government under President Cyril Ramaphosa has received applause for its response to the coronavirus and mitigating its spread, the lockdown has caused civil unrest due to hunger, crime, and the potential for economic catastrophe.
The lockdown has resulted in an estimated 9.6 million children who are reliant on school feeding programs to go without a daily meal. Thousands more citizens are forfeiting meals they would usually receive from community nutrition centers. In many cases, these meals are the only food people can reliably look forward to each day.
Helen Fraser, operations director of the Johannesburg-based Nashua Children's Charity Foundation, found that the solution was to set up a last-minute emergency food drive. She and a few others converted their homes into receiving depots, where the public streamed in with donations of food and groceries.
“It’s been amazing,” Frasers said. The foundation received around 250,000 rand (about $14,000) in food and money over the four days the depot lasted. On the day before the lockdown, they hastily dispatched food to 28 feeding and outreach programs.
The next day the government distributed a pamphlet outlining the lockdown regulations, which prohibited gatherings, seating, and eating in community nutrition development centers. The new policy did allow for food to be “prepared and delivered through knock and drop.”
But the lockdown has frightened those who are essential to the distribution of food.
Sophy Mongake, who runs the Abangani Enkosini feeding program in Alexandra, a heavily populated township in northern Johannesburg, says their volunteers are no longer willing to cook. The center, which provides three meals a day to 200 children and elderly, had intended to remain functioning as an essential service.
"But you can't stop people from being scared," Mongake says. "When the first Covid-19 deaths were reported in South Africa, the caterers were like, 'No, no, no. We are not coming to the center.' And if there's nobody coming to cook, then there's no food available for the kids."
Children and the elderly are not the only ones to feel the crush of food shortages. The millions of undocumented migrant workers have “probably been scrounging for meals from friends, who themselves have been unable to work for more than two weeks,” according to The Daily Maverick.
“Our problem is not that we don’t have enough food in South Africa. Our problem is that the food is only available to those who have cash, and the poorer you are, the less likely you are to live near a retailer.”
When asked about the consequences of an extended lockdown, Lindy Heinecken, sociology professor at Stellenbosch University, said, “My personal view is this will fuel frustration, anger and resentment, especially as the poor carry the greatest burden.”
“Looting and rioting will be inevitable, and the security forces are not in a position to contain this. It may well result in excessive use of force as neither the police nor military are equipped to deal with riot control in terms of their training and equipment.”
According to The World News, Gauteng Education MEC Panyaza Lesufi this weekend lamented the 55 schools vandalised and burgled during the lockdown. While Lesufi bemoaned the damage done to education infrastructure, Police Minister Bheki Cele condemned the looting of 16 liquor stores in the Western Cape during the same period.
The vast majority of the private sector has been eliminated with very little notice, leaving even middle class citizens without a means to weather the crisis.
Economist Mike Schussler stated that he had calculated that if the lockdown were to be extended by another 10 days, about 1.6 million jobs would be lost in the formal sector by the end of the second quarter.
And if the lockdown continued for as long as three months, South Africa could only expect to climb out of the economic devastation in mid-2021, or in the first quarter of 2022, he added.