Facing life in a period of COVID-19

Monday, June 29, 2020

A cloth facemask, face shield and a bottle of hand sanitiser are the likely key items that one could consider when putting together a time capsule to be discovered by future generations.

While these items are unlikely to survive the humidity and other environmental forces underground, while awaiting discovery, they are items that have come to characterise life today.

The objects have come to signify the fight against COVID-19 which to date has taken the lives of many, while also wreaking havoc with the livelihoods of many more people.

The pandemic has brought anxiety to citizens and businesses alike as Indalo Nubian Naturals founder Smangele Sibisi told SAnews recently.

A few months ago, the natural hair salon was a thriving business with both its Johannesburg and Pretoria branches doing well.

As South Africa recorded its first case of COVID-19 on 5 March, life for this business was about to be turned on its head.

Soon afterwards, government announced the implementation of a stringent lockdown to curb the spread of the virus.

In the quest to save lives, South Africans have adhered to lockdown regulations, which included staying at home.

While no price can be placed on saving lives, many businesses like Indalo, have taken a beating over the course of the lockdown.

“We didn’t have any income since 25 March. You can imagine surviving three months without any income. As much as we were put on hold, our expenses were not put on hold,” said Sibisi.

As a result of no income over the course of the last several months, Sibisi was forced to let go of a total 29 hairstylists at her two salons.

This as expenses including the payment of suppliers snowballed.

The young businesswoman, will not forget the day she released a press release on 19 June announcing the closure of the salons she built from nothing.

“I cried the whole day at the thought that we’re closing down,” said Sibisi who opened her first salon in Johannesburg in 2016.

She has been doing hair since she was nine-years-old.

The 29-year-old, who suffers from anxiety and often experiences panic attacks, was also heartbroken by text messages from stylists informing her of their imminent evictions from their homes.

She also found herself having to move out of her apartment and to yield her car to the bank.

The once-booming business, generating anything between R240 000 and R300 000 found itself penniless.

In true South African fashion, Sibisi’s clients have cheered her on, encouraging her not to give up on her business.

“I wasn’t aware of the army behind me. If I could thank them all individually, I would. One of my clients even called me and prayed with me.”

Today, Sibisi is raising capital for her business through crowdfunding with the trust of resurrecting the Johannesburg branch.

She is confident that she will bounce back.

“All I know is that people are rooting for us and we’re now looking at the house call system.”

Recently government announced further easing of lockdown regulations with hair salons now allowed to trade, under strict conditions.

Prior to the arrival of the pandemic, Sibisi was planning to employ more stylists at her salon’s Pretoria branch.

Currently the Pretoria branch is operating on skeleton staff as a way of ensuring social distancing.

“About 70% of my staff will not receive a salary again this month.”

It has been a rollercoaster ride for the award-winning hairdresser who has styled big names in the entertainment industry like Claire Mawisa, Rami Chuene, Renate Stuurman, Zenande Mfenyane and Sindi Dlathu. 

It is clear that it will take a long time for her business to get it back on its feet.

Those who find the time capsule many years from now will no doubt also want a glimpse into how the pandemic affected schooling and learning.

Former President Nelson Mandela said education is the most important weapon, which one can use to change the world.

As South Africa entered lockdown at midnight on 26 March, many learners including matriculants had to adjust to digital learning and self-study.

However not every learner has access to a computer or WiFi at home.

“As a matriculant, the lockdown has negatively affected me. Online learning wasn't working for me as someone from a disadvantaged community,” said Itumeleng Lebese.

Armed with only her textbooks and no teachers in front of her, the teenager from Diepsloot, has had to make do with the little she has.

Since the start of the lockdown, she has buried herself in books after schools went on recess earlier than planned.

The 17-year-old caught up with her schooling through WhatsApp on her cellphone’s small screen.

Her teachers often bailed her out if she ran out of data.  

In between her WhatsApp classes, she would tune into COVID-19 television curriculum support for learners, an initiative by the SABC and the Department of Basic Education.

“It was challenging to learn through WhatsApp because some of the things are understood better when the teacher is in front of you, even just asking questions had its problems,” she said.

Determined to succeeded, she has had to push herself in order to ensure she does not repeat the grade.

However, relief came when school doors partially reopened for grade 7s and 12s on 8 June 2020.

“I was so excited because online learning was not easy and I also missed my friends.”

While she was a bit nervous about the threat that COVID-19 poses, the induction on how to keep safe during the pandemic has put her at ease.

Lebese is playing catch up as most public institutions scramble to salvage what is left of the school calendar amidst the pandemic.

She points out, that adjusting to the “new normal” has not been a walk in the park.

Nevertheless, as the country commemorates Youth Month under this new normal, she is happy to be back at school.

“We form a line when we get to school, sign the register, sanitise and there is an isolation room, “she said.

In the changes taking place, her class, which comprises of 60 learners, has also been slashed by half to 30.

Learners also have their lunch in the classroom and they do not socialise with friends.  

“I’m used to it now,” she said with a chuckle.

“We are taking it one step at a time.”

While the virus has cast a shadow on life, as we know it, Lebese is determined to pass her matric and pursue her dream of studying Media Studies.

“My background and hunger for success are what keep me going. I want to be the one to break the chain of poverty at home, “she said.

The teenager shares her home with her grandparents, mother and younger brother.

Her grandmother, the family’s sole breadwinner recently lost her job as a domestic work due to the pandemic.

“The situation is very bad. We’re now living on a social grant.”

Lebese is also a budding author of 'Trouble in Diepsloot', a book that delves into life as a young person in the township.

The pandemic has had had a huge impact on business, schooling and has encroached on what is perhaps the most important day in one’s life.

Lesego Seokwang was looking forward to celebrating her wedding surrounded by friends and family after getting married at Home Affairs last year.

The stage had been set for the big day on 28 March for the couple who first met in university.

While most things were going to be done in-house, the couple had already spent money on a tent, a cow and décor items. Some family members had already paid for their accommodation.

“Leading up to that day, we had prepared everything that needed to be prepared and then a few weeks before, COVID-19 landed on our shores and everything was uncertain," said Seokwang.

“We started getting worried about whether people were going to travel to our wedding and them contracting the virus even though there were no cases reported in the Northern Cape then, where the wedding was going to be,” said the 30-year-old.

Seokwang’s worst fear was realised when President Cyril Ramaphosa announced the lockdown restricting interprovincial travels.

In addition, Seokwang did not want to place her two sisters who are both asthmatic at risk of contracting the virus especially also at a time when one of them is pregnant.

“We had to make the tough decision to postpone indefinitely. We didn’t want to celebrate with just 50 people, we were expecting 200 guests.”

The couple’s grandmothers also have comorbidities.

“Our grandmothers have comorbidities. It was a thing of are we going to enjoy it if they’re not present?” 

While the virus has disrupted her big day, Seokwang has no regrets.

“The only thing we were touched about is that the celebration didn’t happen, but then we thought why would we want to be a problem by risking people’s lives when we could wait?”

She believes that it was a small sacrifice on their part, as the pandemic will eventually pass. 

“Death is permanent and postponement is temporary and it only made sense and our day will come and who knows? Maybe our day will be bigger and better,” she said.

Despite the fact that COVID-19 has brought challenging times for society, young people, remain resolute to defy the odds this Youth Month.

The tenacity, passion to succeed and hope that young people carry in their hearts are crucial ingredients needed in life after COVID-19.

No time capsule can capture that. – SAnews.gov.za

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