Beleaguered and Confused

I am not sure where to begin. Today is the one-hundred-and-twenty-somethingth day since South Africa went into a lockdown. Of these, some five weeks were a hard lockdown to retard the community transmission of the novel corona virus that causes COVID-19 disease. More importantly, it was to buy time to prepare the country’s health facilities for the onslaught that was inevitable.

It’s about six weeks since I last had something to say about “the situation”. In South Africa.  The world.  Not because it doesn’t occupy a fair bit of my waking (and sleeping) mind, but because it’s becoming less of a “thing” and more of a thing.  It’s reached our village and we’ve moved between zero and three cases at any one time.  As far as I know, all cases have recovered.  That said, the woman who helps me in the house has lost four members of her extended family.  One of my best friends, who lives in Johannesburg, has had symptoms but these weren’t deemed sufficiently severe for a third test.  Notwithstanding the killer headache.  She went into self isolation and happily she is fine.  As I write, a contemporary from school is in a living hell.  Her husband has been in an induced coma for the last two weeks.  He still is.  Today Sunday’s update was that there was improvement to his heart and liver but that his lungs were still “70% saturated with the covid infection”.

A look at the numbers

Six weeks ago, there were thirty six thousand confirmed cases in South Africa.  Now there are more than four hundred and twenty thousand.  Nearly 40% have required treatment and 0.1% have / are critical and needed ICU treatment.  That’s a total of five hundred and thirty nine people.  Those are not overnight stays.  They are prolonged stays.  My friend’s husband still has weeks ahead of him.  First in ICU and then…

Covid-19 figures as at 25 July 2020: The world and South Africa

We haven’t reached the peak of the pandemic in this country or, it would seem, in the world.  The curves are still rising.

South Africa’s confirmed cases and recorded deaths – March to July 2020. Source.

Yes, there are regions and countries that seem to have things under control, but the fears of second waves remain.  The EU is planning for that eventuality. Notwithstanding any advances in the development of a vaccine and/or treatments.

Doubling down up – it’s a complicated, fickle disease

Infectious diseases spread rapidly.  That’s stating the obvious, but it bears repeating.  I keep on hearing people questioning how the numbers can double so quickly.  Well, just think about it:  Dad gets home from work.  Kisses mom hello.  Dad kisses the two kids good night.  The kids cuddle granny the next day.  Dad (one person) came home with the virus.  He has potentially given it to another four people.    If all four are infected with enough of the virus to become infected and infectious, they will spread it.  Granny will cuddle the other grandchildren.  Mom will go to work and potentially infect her co-workers, and so how many people infected – from just Dad?  All this complicated by the reality that the children may never display symptoms or get ill. Or be diagnosed. But will be infectious.

None of this is new.  It’s what all the authorities are saying and it’s also why the World Health Organisation did an about turn on wearing cloth face masks.  The thing is:  even with, in South Africa, a more than 60% recovery rate:  if people get sick, they get very, very sick.  For a long time.  In hospital.  It’s a horrible disease and it takes a long time to recover.


When I marked twenty one days of lockdown, I lamented the heavy handed conduct of the authorities.  I celebrated being able to cook with wine.  I noted that contrariness regarding tobacco sales which had simply descended into the underworld and that all the smokers I know are still smoking.  At extortionate prices.

Yes, that’s a teaspoon and a minute plastic bag of tobacco.

This tiny baggie of tobacco in which our gardener indulged, and from which he’d already had one entjie (little end), cost him R30 (just over $2).  He would get another entjie from that last bit.  He is a casual worker who eventually found his birth certificate that enabled him to register for food parcels for his family – only two weeks ago.  In the meantime, when he had money, tobacco took precedence.

Worn down

On day 54 of the lockdown, I said I was tired. On day 125, I’m not just tired, I’m worn down and confused.   I know I’m not alone.  We went from a lifting of some restrictions and feeling not quite so hemmed in because there was no curfew and we could excercise and take the odd day trip.  Then, suddenly, just like that, on a Sunday evening about two weeks ago, boom!  the President announced the reinstatement of a curfew, toasting it with a ban on alcohol sales.  I can no longer cook with wine.

Needless to say there is an ongoing hue and cry:  when the ban was lifted on 1 July, there was a more than 60% increase in alcohol related trauma.  This stretched, certainly in my home province, the already strained high care facilities.  So, I do get it.

It’s also common knowledge that there is an “alcohol problem” in South Africa.  As with smoking, though, it’s about a third of the population that drinks, and amonn them, very heavy drinkers. As with smoking (she repeats herself), it’s the minority who ruin it for those who drink moderately enjoy an aperitif and/or a glass of wine over dinner.

It’s not only booze

After the hard lockdown, restaurants remained unable to sell and serve alcohol.  Initially they could offer takeways and then were permitted to host diners to enjoy a meal. At COVID-19 standard social distances.  Suddenly, an 9pm curfew means in the cities, that kitchens probably have to close at 7pm and staff leave for home by 8pm.

“Dinner service?” I hear you ask.  Well, exactly.

Oh, and leisure accommodation may not accept guests.  Business travellers, yes.  You can take a trip into the country, in your home province, but you can’t stay over.  Oh, and I can go to church, and I can sit in a café and have a coffee, with complete strangers, but I can’t visit my friends who are family.  Let alone family.

Tail wagging the dog – in the taxi and at school

Oh, and I can sit in a minibus taxi – also with complete strangers – full to capacity – as long as the windows are open.  Because the industry threatened to shut down the country if they couldn’t operate at 100%.

Schools are out.  Again. Because the teachers’ unions are afraid for the children that the children might get ill, infect the teachers and/or take the infection home to granny and grandpa.

Like teachers don’t bring the virus to school because they don’t ride in taxis or go to the shops to buy food to feed their families?

As a former educator and with a lifelong interest in education, I know this is doing almost as much damage to this generation of scholars as is the virus.  South Africa can ill afford yet another lost generation.

Where is she going with this?

Well, you may well ask and getting back to the booze:  the point is about more than the alcohol.  It’s about the value chains. Yes, plural.

Let’s look briefly at one that’s rather close to home:  the wine industry.  Our village is in the heart of the winelands, so let’s start in the vineyard, where people, led by viticulturists, work to tend the vines and pick the grapes to take to the cellar.  The grapes are pressed and the juice nurtured to turn into fine wine – using equipment and vats and barrels – by highly skilled people. Then it must be bottled and labelled.  The equipment in the vineyards and cellars must be procured and maintained.  Bottles and lables must be sourced from producers.

This, all before the wine even hits a retail counter in a cellar, bottle store or bistro.  The knock-on effects on livelihoods are no less devastating than COVID-19.  And as exponential.  This is just one element of the tourism and hospitality sector.  There is a myriad of others.

Losing more than money

The South African government is also losing money and face.  In an op ed piece, the Premier of the Western Cape anticipates the loss of two hundred and forty thousand jobs.  Just in our province.  Two people in my close circle have businesses that have either not launched, and/or not functioned because of, the lockdown and specifically the alcohol ban.  No income for going on five months but still having to feed, clothe and meet the ongoing obligations of maintaining premises?

In the face of rampant government corruption associated with the pandemic and over the past more than ten years.

Then, when the hospitality sector holds a peaceful demonstration, the conduct of the police is reminiscent of the apartheid era, I am just simply at a loss for words.

Illogical paradoxes

I still don’t know where I’m going with this, and I’m not sure anyone really understands what lies behind the mixed messages emanating from the powers that be.  As a Piscean, I’m known for chasing my tail and flapping about before making a decision.  I like to think, though, that when I’ve made a decision its mostly on logical and solid ground.  I then stick to my guns.  What’s going on around me continues, it seems to me, to be a slippery slope and a recipe peppered with very little common sense.

And now?

The legislation governing the state of disaster under which South Africa currently exists, provides for the government to continue extending the declaration every month for as long as necessary.  It has been extended to mid-August.  Looking dipassionately at the numbers and listening to the daily announcements of confirmed cases of between ten- and thirteen thousand, even I can see that the numbers have not peaked in South Africa.   Those who know much more than I, say so, too.  It begs the question:  how much longer will we be living in a constant state of confusion and incoherence?

What I’m doing to cope

I miss seeing the people I care about.  I miss going to my regular places. I’m not sure I’m coping.  I am doing.  Keeping my head down and diligently doing the bit of work I’ve (happily) found, and looking for more.  I am grateful that the McGregor Saturday market has begun again.  It means that after three months, suddenly, my week has shape again:  kitchen day is back.  There is one day in the week when I must get out of bed and wear something other than sweat pants because there is somewhere to go, and people to see.

With a new addition to my market repertoire:  sourdough rolls.

More of “mother”, sourdough bread and rolls, anon.

Until next time, be well
The Sandbag House
McGregor, South Africa

Photo: Selma


Post Script

In yet another aspect of my life, I offer

English writing, research and online tutoring services

writing – emails and reports, academic and white papers
formal grammar, spelling and punctuation
more information here

And then there’s more:

  • If this post might seem familiar, it’s because I’m doing two things:
    • re-vamping old recipes.  As I do this, I plan to add them in a file format that you can download and print.  If you download recipes, buy me a coffee. Or better yet, a glass of wine….?
    • and “re-capturing” nearly two years’ worth of posts because of this.
  • If you’re interested in a soft entry into the world of crypto currency and monetising WordPress blog, use the fantastic Steempress plugin to post directly to the Hive blockchain.  Click on the image below to sign up
  • I also share the occasional my instagram posts to the crypto blockchain using the new, and really nifty phone app, Dapplr.  On your phone, click the icon below, and give it a go.

  • I also share the occasional post on Medium.


Common sense: Not so common

On 1 June 2020, South Africa moved to level 3 of the measures in terms of the National State of Disaster to curtail the spread of Covid-19.  There are a few people suggesting that it’s the end of lockdown.  When the President made the announcement, he advised that the details would be made clearer in “the coming days”.  At the end of the 45 minute address, there were two – no three – takeaways. For me, anyway:

  • the primary purpose of the lockdown had been achieved:  a sufficient slowing of the spread of the Corona virus that causes Covid-19 to enable significant preparation for the inevitable and ongoing increase in acute cases.
    Every citizen must now take personal responsibility for not catching the virus by following the social distancing and hygiene protocols to stop the spread.
  • everyone would go back to work (working from home if it is possible to do so).  It will be business as usual: except for leisture tourism and hospitality
  • schools will re-open, beginning with the two exit years at year 7 (into high school) and year 12 (into the world of work or post school education and training)

Oh, but wait, there was one more:

I can cook with wine.  Again.  My smokin’ friends, however, still cannot light up and have a puff.

Alcohol will be on sale on specified days, in specified hours.  I’ll come back to this.

A quick look at the numbers

As has always been predicted, the numbers of Covid cases in South Africa is growing exponentially.  When I last did a numbers update, the world had 3,2m cases.  Now there are nearly 6,5 million.  In South Africa, we have gone from a mere five thousand odd five weeks ago, to nearly thirty six thousand.

Covid-19 figures as at 30 May 2020: The world and South Africa

In Cape Town alone, just a two and a half hour drive from where I live, there are nearly 1,000 cases in hospital and more than 194 people in ICU (Source).

Cause for pause

Prior to lockdown and the preparation for the onslaught, there were a mere 150 ICU beds in Cape Town’s public hospitals.

That metropolitan area, along with another rural municipality in the province, are the identified “hotspots”.  In our municipality, the number of cases has gone from 4 to 35 of which 27 are active (i.e. 8 recoveries, source).  To date, there is still no case in the village.  We know, though, it will come.  It’s inevitable.

It was initially predicted that South Africa’s Coved-19 outbreak would reach its peak around September.  Cape Town, however, is now expected to reach its peak at the and of this month or the beginning of July.  The concern about sufficient number of beds remains.

In case you’re wondering why I’ve not included the number of tests conducted world wide:  there are conflicting figures and a well-documented shortage of test kits.  In South Africa there’s a ten-day backlog and they’re using a triage system to identify who should be tested.  So, what’s the point?

In the “coming” days

In the days following the President’s statement, but prior to the briefing from the various ministers, the President again addressed the nation.  This time, he said it was to call for a national day of prayer.  In reality, it was to inform the population that in the interests of their spiritual health, from 1 June, they would be free to attend their places of worship. Gatherings may not exceed 50.  There must be attendance registers and temperature screening.  These registers will collect not just names and addresses but details of next of kin.  This information will, of course, be used for contact tracing.  That is logical and sensible.

What else?

I am, though, left asking myself:  where else will this data go and for what else will it be used?  When the pandemic is over.

In a country that has a “command council” coordinating efforts to curtail the pandemic, and where abuse of power is all too common:  under level 1 lockdown and which I mentioned in a previous post, and continuing under level 2 and when a a parent stepped on to the beach to fetch a child..

I alluded to some of the questions about personal data in this post, and when I linked to this inteview with Edward SnowdenIf you didn’t follow the link then, do it this time, and listen to the interview.  It’s even more relevant, two to three months later, than it was then.

More burning questions

Places of worship are internationally acknowledged as major contributors to the spread of the virus.  If these can function, with congregations of to 50, why not open restaurants and coffee shops?

With the same provisos:  social distancing and fewer than 50 patrons?   South Africa may have a religious people, but we are a secular state.

What about personal care businesses and tattoo parlours?

All these establishments have, in terms of their training, good business and good sense, to apply good hygiene and sanitary practices. Ergo less risk of spread.

Oh, and on the issue of collecting names and addresses of “attendees”, names and addresses are not collected when one visits the supermarket, hardware store or the bank.  Not that I’m suggesting they should be.

Then there was more

When the ministers responsible for the various sectors of the economy eventually briefed the country, a few things remain as clear as mud:

One can exercise at any time of the day.  Non-contact sport is playable.  But the golf and tennis clubs cannot be open.  Inter provincial movement is prohibited, but you can go and visit a game park – as long as you drive yourself.  It’s still not clear whether one may visit family or have a few friends (who are family) over for lunch.  One minister says “Aye” another says “Nay”.

Then, restaurants, previously only allowed to sell alcohol when it was consumed on the premises, may now sell sealed bottles of their patrons’ favourite tipple to take home.  During the same days and times that any other off-consumption outlet may sell alcohol, viz., Monday to Thursday between 09h00 and 17h00.


It precipitated an outburst from me on my personal Facebook page:

Restaurants & pubs selling alcohol for home consumption – these things spring to mind:

They have to charge restuarant prices to make it worth their while. What patron will pay those prices when it’s possible pay much less from bottle stores and from grocery shops?

As they also have to sell alcohol, for delivery and collection, during the specified times, so other than lunch orders, no wine pairings…

And little [village] pubs: do they have the buying power to buy alcohol at discounted rates? More to the point, do they still have the reserves to buy in stock? I am sure there are other things I can’t think of right now…

I have long thought that those in government have less than no idea how business really works, especially small businesses and where people are self-employed and/or freelance.

People who get monthly salaries from our taxes have no clue what it takes to actually make money, i.e. generate a product or service that customers buy and which pays not just the business’s bills, but people’s wages and salaries. Money doesn’t appear in our bank accounts by magic each month.

Emphasis added

The rant precipitated a response from longtime friend and former partner in one of the big (and credible) international accounting firms:

 I ran a corporate finance boutique in the late 90s and early 2000s. I learnt then that the guys in government have no clue what cash flow for a business means. This is (sic) becomes quite acute when you have a contract with them. Scope variations, late payments, and other horrors were the order of the day.

Every month-end, however, the same government officials were happy to receive their salaries with compliments from the tax payer.

The guys making decisions over the citizenry have no clue as to how reality is on the ground.

Pop Motsisi

From my old day job:  this scenario that was a reality with virtually every contract awarded to either my business or to associates’.

Economic ruin

We all get that the world economy is getting sicker, and in this country, the situation is dire.  Since I started writing, there has been a High Court judgement declaring the regulations pertaining to levels 3 and 4, unconstitutional.  While the country’s top constitutional expert believes the judgement is flawed, the principle remains:  this whole “thing” hasn’t been thought through.  There seems to be a profound inability to make connections, think laterally, let alone rationally.  Especially in a country where the unemployment rate sits at nearly 30% and of that number, nearly 60% are unemployed youth (Source).

Forty odd years ago, when I started taking Geography seriously, I learned that primary industries, and specifically, mining and agriculture were the greatest contributors to the country’s economy.  Now, those two, are second only to services which contribute just on 24% of the country’s GDP (Source).  The lockdown has seen the mines closed and now slowly reopening with all the challenges of this rampant disease.  Other than “essential” retail, the only services that continued were financial banking services.

Effectively, the economy was shut down for two months.

What constituted essential retail was the source of endless discussion:  under level 1, we could only buy food.  It was a fight to “release” sanitary items other than toilet paper on to the shelves.  Only after significant pressure was one able to buy baby clothing and infant supplies.  Then only for newborns and to a particular age.  It seems that the powers that be understand that babies’ arrival won’t wait for lockdown to be lifted, but that children will just stop growing and start again when the lockdown is lifted.  Under level 2, only certain specified (I kid you not) items of clothing could be bought.

Covid relief – is it?

Oh, the banks have given us a bond holiday.  But they’re not going to lose:  the debt will just be re-scheduled and re-calibrated and it’ll cost us the same…. Their only loss:  less interest because the central bank reduced the interest rate.  Banks have not dropped their lending rates, have they?

The government has similarly made relief packages available for small businesses with turnover below ZAR 300 million. Ahem…  However, of those that qualify, and which have applied, nearly 70% have been unsuccessful.  Entities that do not qualify are sole proprietorships.  Given high barriers to entry, and the cost of maintaining a business entity, the sole proprietorship is the simplist and cheapest entity to establish.  Within my own circle, I know of individuals and entities, alike, that have simply not tried to seek relief:  we know from past experience, the bureaucracy and hoops through which they must jump just to apply.  Here’s a specific example:  a friend established a pre-school nine years ago.  She has put her heart and soul into it, and until Covid-19, it was very successful.  She was planning a celebration of ten years early in 2021.  Because of the lockdown, she’s considering closing it.  Then, last week, there was a glimmer of hope for some compensation for work done – in line with the requirements of the relevant  government department.

Hopes dashed

But no, all hopes were dashed because the type of entity in terms of which she operates, is not deemed appropriate.  Early childhood centres may still not operate.  Yet parents must return to work. Where’s the sensibility in that?


Speaking of sensibility, there is at least one political party, claiming to be economic freedom fighters that wants the hard lockdown to continue.  I am not making this up.

Back to my Facebook rant and the subsequent comment which corroborated what I was trying to say:  that, by and large, politicians and government have no real concept of the mechanics of running a business.  Did they really think through the implications of permitting restaurants and takeaways selling booze for home consumption?  Do they really think that this will rescue micro businesses that have not had any turnover (let alone income or, heaven above, made a profit), for two months?

Lockdown or lock up?

So, while for some people, things are returning to normal:  they go to work every day, and come home to an evening tipple.  However, for some in the hospitality and tourism sectors, the lockdown has ended.  I wonder how many face the prospect, like my friend, of locking up shop, for good?

Until next time, be well
The Sandbag House
McGregor, South Africa


Post Script

In yet another aspect of my life, I offer

online English tutoring services

every day conversation and formal presentations
writing – emails and reports, academic and white papers
formal grammar, spelling and punctuation
more information here

And then there’s more:

  • If this post might seem familiar, it’s because I’m doing two things:
    • re-vamping old recipes.  As I do this, I plan to add them in a file format that you can download and print.  If you download recipes, buy me a ko-fi?
    • and “re-capturing” nearly two years’ worth of posts because of this.
  • If you’re interested in a soft entry into the world of crypto currency and monetising WordPress blog, use the fantastic Steempress plugin to post directly to the Hive blockchain.  Click on the image below to sign up
  • I’m still blogging on Steem with the occasional post on Medium.