Brian Mufamadi (left), a taxi driver, is spraying his taxi with disinfectant. Brian serves the Elim to Louis Trichardt route. He is assisted by a fellow taxi operator.
Unlike the first three days, Day 4 of the Covid-19 lockdown started on a busy note. From early in the morning, taxis were ferrying passengers into towns, mainly to where the SASSA pay-out points are situated.
On Sunday, Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula relaxed the regulations that prohibited taxis from operating between 09:00 and 16:00. From 30 March to 3 April, the operating hours are from 05:00 to 20:00. The pay-out to South African Social Security Agency (SASSA) beneficiaries was also done earlier, to assist society’s most vulnerable members.
All this meant that the towns and business centres were very busy and government’s plea for social distancing fell on deaf ears.
At the South African Post Office in Louis Trichardt, the queue snaked down Krogh Street, all the way to Erasmus Street. The post office staff tried their best to get the grant recipients to maintain space between them, but to little avail. Here and there people were wearing masks, but for most it was just continuing as usual, seemingly oblivious to the threat of the coronavirus.
At the shopping centres and big retail stores, the situation was not much different. At Shoprite the attendant spraying disinfectant on the hands of customers was quite despondent. “There is very little we can do. We have tried since this morning to advise shoppers to adhere to social distancing, but as we move away, they ignore the call. We can only maintain the social distancing rules when they move closer to the entrance. Of course, we look at the aged and those who are pregnant, and we let them sit on chairs provided,” he said.
A shopper who had travelled all the way from Madodonga village said: “People always break the law and that is why we have a lot of people in prison. I might be aware of the social distancing rules, but I cannot control the person behind me.”
The Madodonga shopper said that taxis from the village had been loading more than the permitted number of passengers when travelling to Louis Trichardt that morning, but some were stopped by the police at Madombidzha. Only eight passengers are allowed to be in one taxi and the passengers must observe the social distance rules. The taxi drivers were instructed to offload some passengers, who then had to wait for another transport opportunity.
At the Spar outlet in town, some shoppers tried to bulldoze their way into the shop but were stopped by Spar workers who firmly told them to join the back of the queue.
Taxis drivers interviewed were content with the new arrangements. “At least it is better. We will be working for the week, though we have limited trips because of the number of people visiting town,” said Brian Mufamadi while spraying disinfectant inside his minibus taxi.
Date:30 March 2020 - By: Bernard Chiguvare
Bernard Chiguvare is a Zimbabwean-born journalist. He writes mainly for the online publication, Groundup.