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Lockdown, day 105: When the chips are really down

Thursday.

For the first time since the head of state locked us down in response to the Covid-19 pandemic in March —  a whole 105 days ago — I’m starting to lose hope. 

Thus far, I’ve been able to focus on the positive, to temper the sense of dread with gratitude for the parts of life that remain. I’m still employed, uninfected, earning some money and have a roof over my head and food to eat, so it hasn’t been impossible.

Not any longer.

Perhaps it’s the fact that what were, until very recently, statistics in the daily bulletin from the department of health, are now people who we know. ANC KwaZulu-Natal spokesperson Ricardo Mthembu, a person, who has been part of my weekly working life for the past couple of years, died on Wednesday. My neighbour, Uncle Ashley, who went to hospital last Thursday, won’t be coming back.

Perhaps it’s the setting in of the horrific reality of what we are about to face: that this is only the beginning of a massive wave of death. 

Gauteng is preparing more than  one million grave sites.

One million.

Perhaps it’s the realisation that even those of us who are still alive when this pandemic ends will have been touched by it — painfully, permanently changed — but seeing any light at the end of the tunnel is becoming increasingly difficult. 

Our 13-year-old son has also battled this week. 

I don’t blame him. 

His school, a former model C set-up, has applied to the department of education for an exemption to bring the kids back to school ahead of time. As a result, grade 8, his grade, returned on June 29, instead of August 31. The rest of the grades were phased in since, with grades 10 and 11 starting school on July 6, well ahead of the national and provincial return to school programme.

I was shocked by the email from the school, three days before the grade 8 return, informing us that the school was deviating from the national back-to-school programme and making an early return. 

Horrified, to be honest, given that most of the other former model C schools around Durban are sticking with the national plan for going back, rather than making up their own rules.

We’ve kept our son off, despite the school’s decision last week to stop conducting hybrid classes so that those who wanted to stay home could participate in classes online. 

We’ve deferred the decision on his return until next week. He’s scared of getting sick, of making his mother and me sick, so he’s happy to wait.

Earlier this week, Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga revised the back-to-class dates, pushing grade 8 back to August 31 from August 6, in response to the increasing number of infections and deaths at schools around the country. It was a responsible move, the correct reaction to what the teachers unions and parent bodies had been telling her and the situation developing around the country.

Motshekga’s decision was a clear indication that things are getting worse in our schools; that the peak in the pandemic means we have to wait longer before allowing more of our children to be exposed to the virus. 

The World Health Organisation has just announced that the spread of the Covid-19 virus may be airborne; that 1.5m physical distancing may not be enough; that closed spaces are deadly. 

The school has money and resources, and has the space to spread the kids out, but a hasty return to school doesn’t sit well with me, not with the massive increase in infections and deaths.

I’m hoping that the department of education will intervene: do the right thing and step in: halt the indecent rush to get back to the classroom, before somebody’s child gets sick, or dies.

For now, my son’s going nowhere near school.

He can repeat the year if he has to. He can’t come back from the dead.

The mobile goes.

It’s the casino I used to frequent, back before the lockdown, offering me R1 000 for my birthday, which took place in the middle of level 4, when it was closed. It’s normally far less. The casino reopened last week and the SMS messages haven’t stopped since. 

This one is welcome though — free money wouldn’t hurt right now, especially since we’re still waiting for our payout from the Temporary Employer/Employee Relief Scheme.

There’s one snag. To collect my grand, I need to present myself at the casino, in person, and sign for chips to play at the tables, before August 6.

I toss the phone.

It’s tempting, but, like our son, I’m going nowhere.

Things are bad, and a grand is a grand, but I’m not gonna play roulette with my life.

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Paddy Harper
Paddy Harper
Storyteller.

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