OPINION: Suck it up, people

Norman McFarlane

What is it about privileged people that they seem to think that their privilege means the law does not apply to them?

Driving around theVHelderberg over the last few days since lockdown commenced, I was appalled to see the number of people in the leafy suburbs who seem to think that it is okay to go for a walk or jog, walk the dog, or go for a bicycle ride.

A first responder I spoke to on Sunday, recounted an experience in which he accosted three cyclists, and politely asked if they were aware of the lockdown and attendant regulations. Their response was to literally tell him to f-off.

We live in a separate title complex in Somerset West. The average erf size is about 200 square metres, one fifth of a hectare. We have a tiny front garden and an equally tiny back garden, yet we are able to cultivate a series of beds that produces a fair quantity of fresh veggies and herbs. We can also braai in either space.

Taking regular exercise is somewhat more challenging. Running around the property is almost impossible since it is so tiny, so its step-ups on the staircase, resistance training with dumbbells, and YouTube pilates sessions to keep supple.

We don’t have to leave the property in order to get our exercise.

There are a number of families in the complex, around 50% I’d guess, with young children, but I do not see them wandering around, doing what young children normally do.

The confusion surrounding whether or not residents in gated complexes can make use of the common property during lockdown notwithstanding, pretty much everybody seems to be staying inside.

In the broader community, where most properties are gargantuan by comparison, freedom of movement without leaving the property is even greater.

Wag ’n Bietjie is an informal settlement in Lwandle, just across the N2 from Somerset West.

It is a dense cluster of shacks, which, although constructed from corrugated iron, wood and pretty much any other material that can protect occupants from the elements, they are neat and well-maintained.

Many of them have a postage stamp garden, which is lovingly tended.

The dwellings are literally cheek-by-jowl, and the streets are so narrow that a car cannot easily navigate them.

By comparison with even our modest one-up-one-down, the dwellings are tiny, as small as 50 square metres in extent, so for the average sized family, being confined during this time of lockdown must be hell on earth.

Where do the kids play, while still maintaining that much needed social distancing, when the next door neighbour’s home is sometimes no more than a half metre distant?

And let’s not even start talking about water and sanitation facilities, a communal standpipe and communal toilets, up to 300m distant from one’s home.

Yes, we’ve heard the stories since lockdown commenced, of pitched battles between law enforcement and community members in crowded informal settlements and former township areas, who are flouting the stay-at-home regulations, and the indignation expressed on various WhatsApp groups about how “those people” are behaving would be comical if it wasn’t so down right hypocritical.

In our by-comparison gargantuan homes, we can easily maintain social distancing, and practice safe disinfection and hygiene regimes, with an abundance of running water and waterborne sewerage.

When there are up to eight of you in a home less than half the size, how the hell do you cope?

The economic entry point of Covid-19 into a country is a determinant of where and how it spreads.

All of our initial cases were imported, brought into the country by members of middle- to upperclass society who have the economic wherewithal to travel internationally.

At the time of writing, and some weeks into the outbreak locally, the confirmed case count was 1 280, according to a National Institute of Communicable Diseases (NICD) Sunday March 29 Covid-19 statistics update, with Gauteng and the Western Cape leading the charge with 584 and 310 cases respectively.

If one drills down into the figures for the Cape Metropole, it becomes evident that infections are skewed towards the more affluent areas (245), with previously disadvantaged areas having only 21 cases, and most of them, according to available data, quite recent.

One of the most stubborn legacies of apartheid, is the economically skewed spatial distribution of residential areas. Simply put, most poor people are crammed into a few former townships, with staggering population densities.

Aside from living virtually in each others pockets, many residents of the likes of Khayelitsha, Mitchell’s Plain, Masiphumelele, Vrygrond, Dunoon, and our very own Wag ’* Bietjie – and there are a great many more – have to cope with unimaginable levels of poverty, which leads to malnutrition, which in turn can lead to a compromised immune system.

And there you have it: the perfect Covid-19 storm.

Had a neighbouring country been a hotspot of infections, chances are the virus would have literally walked across one of our porous borders, and right into one or more of the vulnerable communities, where it would have spread like wildfire.

Flattening the curve means slowing down the rate of the inevitable spread of the infection to the point where the already beleaguered healthcare system is better able to cope.

Ergo, flattening the curve means doing everything within our power to keep Covid-19 out of our vulnerable communities.

The last thing we want is a repeat of what is happening in Italy, where healthcare workers have to decide who gets onto a ventilator and who not, based on the patient’s likelihood of survival. It’s called triage, and it places an intolerable burden on the frontline healthcare workers to whom we turn for succour in such times of crisis.

If we do not get over our sense of entitlement and stay the hell at home, we will have to stand accountable, after the tidal wave of infections and deaths has subsided, for the part we did not play in containing the spread.