Schools reopening terrifies me

Thursday.

It’s still dark, but I’m up earlier than usual. The working week is nearly over. I’m keen to kill the work off, dispense with one set of anxieties for a couple of days, at least. Switch off for a bit, if I can.

There’s plenty more anxieties left to deal with until the work cycle starts again: the loss of income; the threat of me or my family becoming infected; the rising number of deaths, which are going to increase when the economy opens up further and kids return to school.

Anxiety is the one thing there is plenty of right now. Perhaps it will become easier to live with the anxiety that comes with the pandemic as time goes on. Perhaps a numbness will come with time, but it hasn’t happened yet.

It’s still too early for Glenwood’s jogging-and-walking-the-dog brigade. It’s not too early for the crew of homeless men who arrive every Thursday, long before the sun these days, to harvest what’s in the bins we’ve left outside in the street for collection by the municipality. Lockdown or not, they’ve been here every Thursday.


Today they’re far less hurried, less furtive, than they were earlier in the lockdown, when fear of arrest forced them to pick through the bins at lighting speed with a lookout posted at the end of the street, like they were robbing a bank or something, but they’re still done with their work long before the sun comes up. By the time the first jogger passes, they’ve repacked the bins and moved on with plastic bags full of what they’ve gleaned from our waste.

It’s nearly 60 days since the Covid-19 lockdown kicked in. There’s still no sign around Glenwood of the 70000-odd South African National Defence Force soldiers employed by President Cyril Ramaphosa to enforce the stay-in-the-pozi decree.

Perhaps they’ll make themselves more visible once the country moves to level three and there’s more activity in the streets.

Perhaps Glenwood will keep behaving and the soldiers won’t be deployed to suburbia at all.  When the head of state announced the employment, I had visions of armoured columns trundling down Alan Paton Road; choppers hovering over Bulwer Park; foot patrols in Brand Road. It’s almost been disappointing that none of this has materialised.

Almost.

There’s now some movement at the school across the road in preparation for the proposed return of grade seven and grade 12 learners on June 1.

Since the lockdown started, the only human presence at the school, normally a hub of noise and movement, has been the live-in grounds staff and the security guard at the gate. There’s been a bit more movement this week, since more sectors returned to work: a few maintenance vehicles and workers, and delivery vehicles — a pretty clear indication that the school is getting ready to open up again.

I’m not convinced that it’s time for schools to open yet, even on an incremental basis. The return to school scares me. I get that education, like the economy, needs to get going again; that the lockdown has now served its purpose and can’t be maintained indefinitely, but I’m still terrified by the idea of schools reopening prematurely.

Maintaining physical distancing and proper hygiene will be close to impossible in many of our schools and difficult in all of them. This could go very wrong. In many ways, the first wave of kids who are returning to school are guinea pigs, human crash-test dummies pressed into service to find out if the new system does, in fact, work.

It’s selfish, but I’m still pretty relieved that it’s grade seven and grade 12 that are going back to school first. So is my 13-year-old son, who started grade eight in January.

Our man would be quite happy to stay at home until there’s a Covid-19 vaccine — or a cure — is available, even if it means he has to repeat the year.

He took cover from the time of the president’s first announcement that the lockdown was being implemented and he hasn’t really left his bedroom since. Even the introduction of the 6am to 9am exercise window hasn’t enticed him out of his self-imposed isolation to skateboard in the street with his mates.

The coming weeks will tell whether the department of education can deliver on its commitment to make our schools safe for a return to learning.

I share the concern of the teachers unions — and my 13-year-old. The department of basic education still hasn’t got textbook distribution right. Can it be relied on to get the personal protective equipment to the schools in time, and in sufficient quantities, to give the schools a chance of operating without becoming transmission centre

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Paddy Harper
Paddy Harper
Storyteller.

Related stories

Traditional healers need new spaces

Proper facilities supported by well-researched cultural principles will go a long way to improving the image and perception of the practice of traditional medicine

Limpopo big-game farmer accused of constant harassment

A family’s struggle against alleged intimidation and failure to act by the authorities mirrors the daily challenges farm dwellers face

Covid-19 vaccines offer hope as world leaders plan for future

Hopes over Covid-19 vaccines have given a boost to virus-weary citizens across the globe, but the disease remains rampant and world leaders are urging people to be patient

South African football has lost a feminist in Anele Ngcongca

The Bafana Bafana defender valued women who loved sport

Zondo tightens his grip with criminal complaint against Zuma

The state capture commission’s star witness now faces a criminal complaint and another summons

Business schools need to mimic new reality

With most corporates effectively having their staff work remotely, educators will need to match and exceed this if they are to do more than just survive
Advertising

Subscribers only

Covid-19 surges in the Eastern Cape

With people queuing for services, no water, lax enforcement of mask rules and plenty of partying, the virus is flourishing once again, and a quarter of the growth is in the Eastern Cape

Ace prepares ANC branches for battle

ANC secretary general Ace Magashule is ignoring party policy on corruption-charged officials and taking his battle to branch level, where his ‘slate capture’ strategy is expected to leave Ramaphosa on the ropes

More top stories

Sudan’s government gambles over fuel-subsidy cuts — and people pay...

Economists question the manner in which the transitional government partially cut fuel subsidies

Traditional healers need new spaces

Proper facilities supported by well-researched cultural principles will go a long way to improving the image and perception of the practice of traditional medicine

Did Botswana execute ‘poachers’ ?

The Botswana Defence Force’s anti-poaching unit has long been accused of a ‘shoot to kill’ policy. Over 20 years the unit has killed 30 Namibians and 22 Zimbabweans

Limpopo big-game farmer accused of constant harassment

A family’s struggle against alleged intimidation and failure to act by the authorities mirrors the daily challenges farm dwellers face
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…