Supermarkets in Covid-19 lockdown | Single moms told, 'leave your child outside'

24 April 2020 - 13:49
By Wendy Knowler
Only one family member is being allowed at several supermarkets, to the frustration of single parents.
Image: Supplied Only one family member is being allowed at several supermarkets, to the frustration of single parents.

“Leave your child outside.” That’s the advice many a supermarket security guard and manager has been giving mothers who’ve attempted to buy groceries with their young child in tow.

When a La Lucia, KwaZulu-Natal, single mother arrived at Checkers’ Virginia Circle branch to buy paper for her eight-year-old daughter’s school work this week, she was greeted by a sign reading: “Dear Valued Customers, for your own safety we can only allow one family member to enter the store for your essential shopping. Requirements from government.”

“I hadn't seen this kind of declaration at any supermarket chain store or pharmacy before,” she said. “Yes, one expects shopper numbers to be restricted. But to state this, in a blanket way — with no thought given to the many single parents out there — is disappointing, to say the least.”

The store’s security guard told her she could not enter the store unless she left her daughter outside.

“I had to argue my point, which was upsetting and left my child feeling like we were breaking the law by going inside.

“She has told me, in no uncertain terms, that she never wants to go back there again.”

Asked to respond, the Shoprite Group said: “To make social distancing as effective as possible, the government has encouraged parents to not move with their children and that trips to obtain essential items are limited to one person only.

“We understand the difficulty of single parents and can assure you we are working hard to provide the best possible solutions in this unprecedented time. Our store managers and security have been asked to use their discretion in allowing single parents to do their shopping with their children. We will be sure to address this shopper’s experience with Checkers Virginia Circle.”

Earlier this month, single mother Carmen Abdoll was told by a security guard at Pick n Pay’s Waverley, Pretoria, branch to leave her three-year-old child outside.

“What are single parents with small kids supposed to do to get food during lockdown?” she asked. “Must I leave my child at home alone, or in the car with a window cracked?

“I can’t find this in the regulations.”

Responding, Pick n Pay apologised to Abdoll, saying: “We view this incident in a very serious light and do not condone such behaviour.”

But it wasn’t just that PnP store which took to denying single mothers the right to enter with their children. Last Friday Prof Tinyiko Maluleke tweeted: “Saw mother with toddler daughter denied entry to Pick n Pay Midrand. ‘Leave the child at home or outside’, they said. ‘But I’m a single mother, I can’t leave my child at home or outside with a stranger!’ She was told to go away. Is this the best we can do?”

Pick n Pay’s Twitter response team apologised “for the inconvenience caused” and the management of the store in question later contacted both Maluleke and the mother who’d been denied entry to the store.

Where is she expected to leave her child? At home alone or outside with a stranger?

Thembi Mtileni joined that Twitter conversation to say that she had been denied access to Shoprite’s Bambanani store in Diepsloot because she had her daughter with her.

“There is no-one to look after her when I go out to buy essentials,” she said.

So did Tracey Boomgaard: “It happened to my daughter at Shoprite in Kimberley today. They didn’t want her to enter the store with her one-year-old.

“Where is she expected to leave her child? At home alone or outside with a stranger?”

Shoprite SA responded: “We understand your difficulty; our store managers and security have been asked to use their discretion in allowing single parents to do their shopping accompanied by their children.”

*On April 6 a single mom in Texas, USA, took to Facebook to share a photo of her five-year-old daughter wearing a face mask and a sign on her back reading: “I am only five. I can’t stay home alone so I have to buy groceries with mommy. Before you start judging, stay back 6 feet.” Grocery stores across the US are also implementing social distancing and limiting the number of people allowed in the store at one time.