“South Africa Suffering from Three Pandemics: COVID-19, Ignorance, Stupidity”


“… those things kill people who fly, us we don’t fly, we are here in Mzansi  [South Africa] year in and year out” This was a statement that was made by an elderly man who was interviewed by an E TV news reporter, in the streets of Johannesburg, on the first day of 21 days of lockdown in South Africa, beginning 27th March 2020. The man continued and blamed the ANC (African National Congress), which is the ruling party of the country, for the existence of so many diseases in South Africa, because it has brought foreigners into its borders.

On the 23rd of March 2020, the President of South Africa, Cyril Ramaphosa, addressed the nation about the implementation of a 21-day lockdown throughout the country, which will start on midnight, Thursday, the 26th  of March until Thursday midnight, the 16th of April 2020. The precaution was taken as an urgent response to decrease and control the escalating numbers of COVID19 infections since the announcement of the first infection on the 5th of March 2020. On the day of the address, the number of reported people infected with the virus was standing at 402. By the 29th of March, there were already 1187 known cases, with one death.

The 21-day lockdown meant all shops and businesses were instructed to shut down for that period and all people were ordered to stay and work from home and not leave their place of residence, ‘expect under strictly controlled circumstances, such to seek medical care, buy food and other supplies, or collect the social grant’ the President said. Some businesses, and their employees, together with some State workers listed as providers of essential services, were exempted from this. The lockdown was said to function to protect the nation against further infections of the virus. But on the first day of  #lockdown21, social media was flooded with photos and videos of people from different parts of the country roaming the streets, and gathering in large numbers.

It seems like there are some people who do not take the #lockdown21 seriously, particularly those living in the Townships and among the black population of the country. There is a circulating perception that as people located in these regions, what my friend called the ‘localists’, they have no need to worry about getting infected by corona virus, because the virus is found in the suburban areas, among the population that travels abroad, which is a population closely related to people classified as ‘white’, ‘rich’,  ‘foreign’; ‘outsider’.

On the 26th of March 2020 I found myself being part of a group of people who my grandfather accused of panic-buying, standing in a long queue at a local shopping centre in Diepkloof, Soweto, to enter into a supermarket to buy some goods I thought my family and I will need in the 21-day period. During the hour and 15 minutes I spent in the queue, I observed many other queues such as this one that had formed outside the doorsteps of other shops in the shopping centre, which had a packed car park. ‘The way we are standing so close to each other is surely not one metre away and the number of people gathering here is definitely over a 100’, I said to myself, worrying. 

As the queue gradually moved forward, a car – driven by a young black man, who was with a young white woman – parked nearby me by the car park. The two had attracted a lot of attention of people who were standing next to me, as I watched them turn their interest on them, curiously wanting to see where they are going.  As they went about their business, walking away from us, two elderly men in front of me in the queue started talking about them. One of them accused the young man of bringing the virus here, in Diepkloof, simply because he was with a white person.

Such statements are an instance of misinformation that has led to many people expressing their frustrations and worry about them in social media, though status posts. It has led to the disturbing referral that South Africa is suffering from three pandemics…“1 COVID-19;  2 Ignorance;  3 Stupidity”.

I surf the internet and  browse different platforms of social media,  and I come across similar statements of misinformation like these,  nationwide. I begin to wonder whether the #lockdown21 will have the effect it is hoped it will have during and after its implementation in South Africa. Only time will tell.


Keketso Peete is a PhD candidate at the University of Witwatersrand, Department of Social Anthropology and a contributing author in the book “Opioids in South Africa: Towards a policy of harm reduction” published in 2019,edited by Thembisa Waetjen. 

Images from Whatsapp and Facebook

Feature image of Soweto from pixabay

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