/ 28 May 2020

Save us from a deadly mistake

Ipad Cyril Ramaphosa 8040
Imminent disaster: Cyril Ramaphosa visits the Central Methodist Church in early 2019. Churches became Covid-19 hotspots. Now they can reopen. The Lord works in mysterious ways. (Delwyn Verasamy/M&G)


For the first time since the early days of the Covid-19 lockdown, I’ve lost my sense of humour.

Perhaps it’s the knowledge that, come Monday, a whole lot more people are going to get infected and die, the inevitable result of the moves to open up the economy.

Perhaps it’s the understanding hitting home that the 62 days we’ve spent locked down have achieved as much as they can; that we’re only two months into what is our new, awful, reality; that this is going to get a whole lot worse before it gets better.

Perhaps it’s the process of trying to work out how to make a paycheck that’s way skinnier than last month’s stretch as far as April’s did.

I’m battling to shake a sense of foreboding, of imminent disaster.


The feeling that the bottom is about to fall out of the world hit me on Tuesday night, right after President Cyril Ramaphosa announced the decision to allow places of worship to open up with a 50-punter house limit from June 1.

It was inevitable that the religious sector would eventually be allowed to open up, but I’d hoped that the president would give them the nod when we hit level one, along with pubs, sit-down restaurants, casinos and stadiums, rather than now, when the pandemic is still to hit its peak.

Listening to the boss telling the religious sector that it’s now “in our hands” sent a shiver down my spine, to be quite honest.

Not a good move. Defiant behaviour at Easter church services sparked mini outbreaks in the Eastern Cape and Free State early on in the pandemic.

Regulations or not, I see the reopening of churches and other places of collective worship as being a big mistake, one that is going to cost us lives.

It could get interesting though, given the number of blag artists operating in the God industry whose tills haven’t been turning over since the end of March. They must be raring to go.

Think about it.

Thirty-minute services, Zapper at the door, 15-minute sanitisation breaks in between. Services Friday, Saturday and Sunday, just to make up for lost time.

Holy water for R500 a bottle, guaranteed to keep Covid-19 and the devil at bay.


Reopening the churches is also a serious provocation to every other business that could — and would — happily reopen with a 50-person door limit, sanitiser and masks but lacks the clout and access to government that the religious sector clearly has.

The garage preacher across the road from my flat had his lawn mowed first thing Wednesday, clearly keen to spruce the pozi up ahead of the return of his flock. He’d been pretty low profile since I burned him to the cops — twice — during level five for holding services in violation of the lockdown regulations.

I’ll be watching him like a hawk when he reopens. There’s no way a garage can legally hold 50 worshippers and maintain social distancing. Umbilo police will just have to adjudicate, as soon as the first of the worshippers arrive. I already have the station commissioner on speed dial.

Locked and loaded.

I hit the TV remote.

The national master of ceremonies, Minister in the Presidency Jackson Mthembu, is on the screen, outlining the programme for the release of the regulations for life under level three of lockdown by the various ministerial clusters, the bulk of which are set to take place on Friday.

Mthembu is at pains to emphasise that there will be no U-turn on the limited sale of alcohol on June1. Perhaps Mthembu, like South Africa’s drinking population, was also concerned that the decision to let us have a bevvy wouldn’t make it past our minister of cooperative governance and traditional affairs, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, so he ran it past the woman herself before going on air, just to make sure.


I was as disappointed as the next drinker when the plug was pulled on my hope for a beer or two when we moved from level five to level four. I don’t however agree with the wave of abuse Dlamini-Zuma has faced, particularly on social media, from so many of my brothers and sisters, especially the white ones, ever since.

Dlamini-Zuma voiced her opposition to selling booze, even under limited conditions, under level four, at the meetings which pulled the plug on limited beveraging. Perhaps she led the campaign to keep us sober, but she was certainly not the only one responsible for depriving us of drink for another month. Singling the co-operative governance minister out for the dry month of May is dumb.

Perhaps Dlamini-Zuma and her colleagues will redeem themselves and step in again before June 1. Override the decision to reopen religious institutions. Save us, not from the demon drink, but from the churches, order an about-turn and move churches’ operating window down to level one, where it should be.