Paddy Harper: I’d rather staypozi with Cyril

Tuesday.

The heaped, steaming plates of curried beans and Vienna sausages with phuthu smell amazing as the 90-odd homeless men who have been living at the Denis Hurley Centre in Durban since the lockdown began to queue up for their lunch. At least those who can walk join the queue, returning with extra plates for their colleagues who are wheelchair bound or missing a leg.

Or two.

I’m starving. Breakfast was coffee and a banana and it’s already lunchtime. I’m tempted to ask for a plate — this is the Denis Hurley Centre, so nobody will refuse a hungry person a meal — but there’s food at home. And there are five or six people milling around outside the centre’s fence who are way more in need of any leftovers than I am.

The Hurley Centre was commissioned after the 2015 xenophobia attacks in Durban. The architect, Reuben Reddy, was briefed to incorporate a space large enough to accommodate the victims of another outbreak of violence against people from other countries.


The main hall has become home to about 90 homeless men, many of whom it usually feeds. They’re the most vulnerable of Durban’s most vulnerable: all have chronic illnesses and many are disabled and mentally ill. All are receiving treatment and 24-hour medical supervision, which they do not get when they are on the streets.

I’d spent the morning with the centre’s director, Raymond Perrier, at the camp for the homeless in North Beach, before heading up to the Emmanuel Cathedral, where the centre is based.

I don’t know how many days we have been under lockdown. I lost track of the days — and the number of quarts from the case I bought on Lockdown Eve — at some point over the Easter weekend.

Spending Easter locked down was a first.

Different.

I’d spent Easter locked up before — twice, during my misspent youth, to be exact — but never locked down.

Of the two, I’d take being locked down over being locked up any day. My flat beats the holding cells at the Toti police station and Durban Central (those days it was called CR Swart Square) hands down. Under lock down the food’s way better, there are no bugs in the blankets and there’s no need to sleep with one eye open.

I’d decided to stop counting the days the Thursday before, when the commander in chief, President Cyril Ratherstaypozi, as he has become known of late, wished us Extension Mubarak and added another 14 days to the 21-day lockdown that kicked in on March 26.

The announcement wasn’t unexpected, but it still gave me a sense of dread and sent me scurrying to my stash cupboard to do a quick stocktake of what remained of what I laid in for the planned three weeks. I’d made a pretty respectable dent in my cache.

Fortunately I’d over-catered, if any such thing is possible when it comes to cannabis, and put aside enough to make the inhabitants of a medium-sized village stoned for about six months. I should make it to the end of the extra 14 days — if I watch myself and don’t overdo it on the weekends.

I can’t blame Ratherstaypozi for locking us down for the extra two weeks. He’s likely to have to extend it again before slowly relaxing the restrictions, if we’re to avoid a massive number of deaths from Covid-19. Thus far Ratherstaypozi’s approach had been sensible, driven by science, not nonsense.

We could have done far worse than Ratherstaypozi. Imagine if we were led by a lying conman like Donald Trump, or a scheming moron like Boris Johnson. We’d have far more than a liquor and cigarette ban to worry about were we in the hands of either of those muppets.

Imagine if Thabo Mbeki were still our head of state. Things would not end well. Our man would still be up all night, mouse in one hand, single malt in the other, trawling the internet in search of fellow virus deniers to quote in his next speech refusing to act to stop the pandemic.

Imagine if Jacob Zuma were still number one.

We would be well and truly screwed.

Think about it.

Doctor Malinga would be the minister of health.

Weekend special finance minister Des van Rooyen would already have awarded Atul Gupta the tender for masks, gloves, respirators, sanitisers and quarantine centres, the money for which would have already made its way to Dubai.

uBaba would definitely have made up a song about corona by now, blaming the whole pandemic on the conspiracy by “White Monopoly Capital” and Stellenbosch’s friends in the governing party to send him back to jail.

Perhaps uBaba’s lawyers will quote Covid-19 in their next application to the Constitutional Court to have his corruption case set aside.

Perhaps.

I wonder what advice Zuma would have had about Covid-19?

Apart from giggling.

“Go outside, but don’t breathe?”

Perhaps.

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Paddy Harper
Paddy Harper
Storyteller.
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