WATCH | Lockdown from the skies: Snaking queues, empty streets and roadblocks

A long line of people snaking around the Goal Shopping Mall in Philippi Industria fed by a stream of people from a nearby informal settlement revealed the futility of a lockdown improperly implemented.

Wednesday's bird’s-eye view from Metro-1, the Cape Town Metro Police helicopter contracted through Civair, makes it clear that the government’s goal of limiting the spread of Covid-19 will be arduous.

Capetonians stand separated by shopping trolleys as they wait to buy groceries on Wednesday.
Capetonians stand separated by shopping trolleys as they wait to buy groceries on Wednesday.
Image: Anthony Molyneaux

It’s the day after payday for millions of grant recipients across the country.

At Crossroads, Khayelitsha, Bloekombos, Dunoon — in nearly every informal settlement across Cape Town — thousands of people are queueing for their monthly grants, for them and their dependents.

According to a tweet on Sassa’s official Twitter page, more than 92% of beneficiaries were paid in two days — an unprecedented event.

“Let's keep our money in our cards, we don't have to rush [to spend] on the first day. Good thing is we [are] winning the social distancing war,” read the tweet, accompanied by pictures of people sitting on chairs spaced apart by about a metre.

“These lines will be a hotbed for transmission,” says mayoral committee member for health and community services Zahid Badroodien.

In the informal settlements themselves, children play soccer in the streets. The steady stream of foot traffic and vehicles makes it seem as though the residents there are going on as normal.

The top-down view, however, reveals a different picture.

Snaking queues wait patiently to enter grocery stores in Cape Town on April 1, day six of the Covid-19 lockdown.
Snaking queues wait patiently to enter grocery stores in Cape Town on April 1, day six of the Covid-19 lockdown.
Image: Anthony Molyneaux

In an informal settlement in Khayelitsha that TimesLIVE visited on Tuesday, residents explained that two toilets and a single faucet were the full extent of sanitation services available to hundreds of people.

Zandile Ndamane, 23, who lives in a community consisting of a cluster of shacks in Phakamani Road, says people are more worried about food than hand sanitiser, which she said most people in her community can’t afford to buy.

While she is fearful that Covid-19 could ravage her community, the conditions they live in and the dense population make it difficult for them to adhere to the lockdown regulations.

“There are four toilets, but only two are working. Every morning there is always a line, so you have to stand there all day. Some people are sick, some have diarrhoea, so they have to stand there the whole day,” she said.

“Especially for food, it’s very difficult because you have to walk far to the mall. There is a huge line at the Boxer and people are fighting. People are scared to stand close to each other,” she said.

“The lockdown is a good thing but at the same time it’s difficult, due to the circumstances — and the prices of hand sanitiser, which we can’t afford because people can’t go to work and earn money.”

In working-class suburbs, meanwhile, there were also queues. Physical distancing was implemented — to some extent, at least — by means of shopping trolleys placed between people.

Shoppers wait along designated markers to ensure safe distances between them during the lockdown in Cape Town on April 1.
Shoppers wait along designated markers to ensure safe distances between them during the lockdown in Cape Town on April 1.
Image: Anthony Molyneaux

Badroodien said a lot more education about physical distancing and the dangers of Covid-19 needed to be done in communities where it's clear that people have no choice but to stand in line.

Mayoral committee member for safety and security JP Smith, reflecting on what he saw from the air, admitted he may have to roll back certain comments he made in the media earlier in the week when he suggested shopping times be limited. There are just too many people waiting in line to buy the supplies they’ll need to get them through the next few weeks.

Smith said the city has had to deploy staff to some shops where physical distancing was not being complied with in order to tell people to stand apart.

He said the queues were the result of regulations dictating that buildings may only allow 100 people in at any given time.

But there were poor suburbs where people did seem to adhere to the rules, such as Tafelsig, parts of Mitchells Plain and Langa.

In the wealthier suburbs, the queues of people were replaced by cars filling up parking lots.

Parked cars outside a mall in Cape Town during the Covid-19 lockdown on April 1.
Parked cars outside a mall in Cape Town during the Covid-19 lockdown on April 1.
Image: Anthony Molyneaux

In areas like Durbanville, Plattekloof and Rondebosch, it seemed like panic buying at the announcement of the lockdown meant that people were still stocked up enough to not need to venture out.

In the same space where there were 10 shacks in Crossroads minutes earlier, in the wealthier suburb of Newlands there were large green gardens.

Smith said he saw many more cars on the streets than were observed over the weekend, indicating that people have decided to venture out of their homes when they realised they could get away with saying they were going to the shops.

A roadblock on the N2 near Cape Town on April 1.
A roadblock on the N2 near Cape Town on April 1.
Image: Anthony Molyneaux

“Part of the answer must be to refine the regulation. We are under massive pressure to comply. We have had a 400% increase in call volumes — people screaming and shouting at us because they are seeing other people on the street,” said Smith.

He said the regulations, as they were, were too open to interpretation.

“You will see there are no people where there are parks and beaches — where the matter is not ambiguous, there you don’t see people,” he said.

From there, however, its clear things have changed too.

The University of Cape Town seems like a ghost town from above.
The University of Cape Town seems like a ghost town from above.
Image: Anthony Molyneaux

On the N2 and on most main roads, there were roadblocks scattered around the metro.

At a funeral in Khayelitsha, only a small group of people convened around a gravesite where a loved one was being laid to rest.

A funeral takes place near Khayelitsha on April 1, the sixth day of the national lockdown.
A funeral takes place near Khayelitsha on April 1, the sixth day of the national lockdown.
Image: Anthony Molyneaux

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