Covid-19: Testing

Khayelitsha has SA’s most intense outbreak of Covid-19

24 May 2020 - 00:00 By PHILANI NOMBEMBE and TANYA FARBER
Bordering False Bay and built on the sands and dunes of the Cape Flats, the densely populated and informal part of Khayelitsha where there's hardly room to swing a cat let alone keep to social distancing.
Bordering False Bay and built on the sands and dunes of the Cape Flats, the densely populated and informal part of Khayelitsha where there's hardly room to swing a cat let alone keep to social distancing.
Image: Esa Alexander

For two days Phumla Saule could barely sleep. A colleague at the Khayelitsha supermarket where she works had tested positive for Covid-19.

Saule, 32, went for a test at the Town Two Clinic this week, and found the queue full of colleagues and other retail workers. "Our jobs have become a source of the dreaded Covid-19," she said.

"Most people I know who have had to self-isolate work in supermarkets, banks, police stations - we are classified as essential workers and interact with the public."

Saule lives in Enkanini, one of Khayelitsha's informal settlements, where social distancing is almost impossible. "I did my best to protect myself and my children," she said. "But we shared the same space and ate lunch with our colleague, who tested positive."

Khayelitsha is the site of SA's most intense Covid-19 outbreak, with more than one in 250 of its 400,000 residents having tested positive.

Keith Cloete, head of health in the Western Cape, said township residents who work in essential services, including retail, have become vectors.

"The virus had been concentrated in essential services clusters and care homes, and had then travelled back to the geographical areas where workers in those sectors live, areas which are the most vulnerable communities in Cape Town," he said.

Siphokazi Gqasana, 38, a merchandiser at a Khayelitsha supermarket, said: "We are in the shop the whole day. Throngs of people come in and most don't follow the guidelines."

Some who arrived without masks were told to buy them at the entrance, but "once inside the shop, they remove them", complaining they are uncomfortable.

"Sometimes four people accompany each other to the shop, only to buy two non-essential items."

Ncediwe Ndevu, 44, is a police officer whose twin sister tested positive. The twin works at a bank and has potentially infected 11 family members, including their sickly 85-year-old mother.

In numbers

• 98.2% - Covid-19 patients
who will survive,
according to Winde

• 1.8% - patients who will

• 10% - patients who will
require hospitalisation

"My mother is struggling to breathe," Ndevu said, adding that her husband developed a fever last week and was taken to hospital on Sunday.

"I have just been told that he is in ICU. He is yet to get his results but was struggling to breathe," she said. 

Long queues at testing stations are testimony to anxiety in the township, and this week the Sunday Times observed a marked change in the community compared with three weeks ago.

There were fewer people in the streets, more wearing masks, and shorter queues at shops.

Informal traders - the backbone of the township's economy - were still out in numbers on the pavements, selling second-hand clothing, sheep heads and chicken feet.

And there were long queues at the SA Social Security Agency (Sassa) office, including mothers with newborn babies who slept on the pavement hoping to apply for support grants and elderly people wanting to renew foster grants for their grandchildren.

Siziwe Dunjani, 26, who was sleeping on a piece of cardboard while she held a place for her elderly aunt, said: "There is no social distancing here. We have had our cloth masks on since yesterday and we can't go home and wash them because we will lose our place in the queue.

Battling the curve.
Battling the curve.
Image: Nolo Moima

"We are aware that the infections have increased in Khayelitsha but we need food. There is nothing we can do, yet we have no hope of being served today. The wait continues."

The daily struggle of residents in Khayelitsha predates the virus, but it has become worse in the past two months

"The key feature of the spatial planning of Khayelitsha was that it was planned as an isolated and segregated area," said Warren Smit, a researcher for the African Centre for Cities.

Nearly four decades later, the social engineering that gave birth to Khayelitsha still plagues its existence as a far-flung blue-collar labour reservoir with little regard for the health of its residents.

"The example of Khayelitsha demonstrates how economic, social and political forces can result in the establishment of an isolated and segregated residential area with limited access to economic opportunities, safe physical activity and healthy food options," said Smit.

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