[This township is in the north of Johannesburg. I'm smiling to myself. This is the very township where I had wondered if the blacks would be just doing as they please. The army and police have to try to get the blacks to listen to the ORDERS and LAWS of their president whom they elected! These people are a bloody mess. There is nothing you can do with them. Jan]
This is what I observed after spending the day in Alexandra, an impoverished and badly overcrowded township in Johannesburg.
The highly restrictive, 21-day lock-down ordered by South African president Cyril Ramaphosa will not work.
It will not work because a significant percentage of the population cannot or will not follow the rules and regulations stipulated by the shutdown, which has been put in place in response to the coronavirus outbreak.
Image:Soldiers have been bussed into Alexandra to try and police the lockdown
Image:People have been queuing up in the street during the lockdown
The South African government should refocus its approach and prepare with urgency for the worst case scenario where tens of thousands of people fall seriously ill.
After 12 hours in Alexandra, nothing else makes sense.
We began the day outside the Freedom Supermarket, where a 500m queue began at the front door.
Across the road, a similarly lengthy line ended at a metal gate which stood in front of the local bank.
Attempting to keep order was a solitary policeman, who screamed and pleaded with the shoppers to spread themselves out.
“Please, one metre away, keep one metre away.”
No one seemed to pay much notice.
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The people of Alexandra know what the coronavirus is doing in South Africa. The authorities have recorded an explosive rise in the number cases, increasing from 200 to over 1000 in seven days.
But residents also need to eat and they are permitted to buy food or medicine at the shops.
Still, the lockdown is not supposed to work like this. There was no social distancing in Alexandra and there were few facemasks or hand sanitizers to be seen. Plus, I could only spot one policeman on the scene.
“Not easy at all, not easy at all, not easy at all,” he muttered.
I spoke to one shopper called Tirello, in front of the Freedom Supermarket.
“We are out now, going shopping, we are meeting different people. If I am infected, maybe this man [in front of me] is not infected and I am spreading the virus to him. It is not going to work. It is not going to work.”
The authorities changed tack in the afternoon.
Several hundred soldiers were bussed into Alexandra with orders to keep the township’s residents indoors.
Image:Tirello has said the lockdown measures are ‘not going to work’
We tagged along with one detachment through a particularly rough part of “Alex” and it was clear the residents did not want them around.
“Go away, go away,” they yelled. “We don’t need this.”
The rules and regulations are strict. Anyone caught outside their home faces six months in jail – or a fine – or both. But they are not taking this seriously in the townships.
“The police minister says you could go to jail for being out here,” I said to one man, who was drinking a beer in the street.
“I am staying in one room with five others, how can I stay in there all day? They must just come and arrest us,” he replied.
The residents ebbed and flowed around the troops as they made their way down the township’s sodden tracks.
Some took shelter in the alleyways and others perched on roofs. But when the soldiers had passed, the people retook the streets.
Some members of the infantry unit began to lose their patience. A woman in uniform targeted a man in a deckchair with a well-aimed slap and a barrage of expletives.
A few minutes later, a soldier walked up to a resident and aimed a punch at his head and swift kick at his legs.
It looked like a show of strength but in reality, it was a telling sign of weakness. Alexandra Township, like many other impoverished communities, cannot be policed and its residents will not self-isolate.
When the virus takes root here, as it almost certainly will, the national healthcare system will crack. South Africa possesses 1,000 intensive care beds. The population of Alexandra alone is estimated at 200,000 to 300,000.
Some 16,000 beds at 52 quarantine sites have been identified across South Africa, “as part of the government’s preparations”, but this does not go anywhere near enough.
You only need to visit “Alex” to see it.