2020 started off well – very well actually! The weather was glorious, my clients were many and happy, and the rest of the year was looking good with a superb variety of tours. I was looking forward to some quality time at a luxury lodge in the winelands, the annual flower tours of the West Coast and Namaqualand, the Overberg for some very interesting tours of special gardens, a visit to a great game park in the Eastern Cape .. and many visits to one of my favourite places, The Cape of Good Hope.
Then came Corona. In January, rumblings of a virus in China made it seem very far off and simply something of interest from a worrying, but not personal, perspective. I discussed it with clients, with one family we even joked with their curious children – we explained it as a science fiction film. I mentioned to a waitress at a restaurant that her ex-manager was living in Wuhan under virus lockdown – she had no idea what I was talking about.
In early March, reality arrived in Italy and even though none of my clients were Italian, there were many Italian tourists around us. I began to wonder about how sensible it was to use the ever-crowded Table Mountain cablecar or to visit places like the wooden deck at Boulders penguin colony, which is often very crowded. I met an Italian tourist who told me she did not want to go home.
On 12 March I said my goodbyes to a Canadian family of four who went home straight into quarantine for 14 days. I did a big grocery shop and went into self-isolation. My city was still packed with tourists, everything continued as normal. It was worrying but South Africa did not yet have a single case of the virus.
Until a group of locals returning from a holiday in Italy brought it back. In Cape Town we still didn’t panic because they all lived far away in other provinces. No deaths were reported, and the statistics were low, but we watched with horror what was unfolding in Europe.
Having already declared a State of Disaster with limits on movements, on the evening of March 23 our President announced a nationwide lockdown with only three days to prepare. All flights in and out of the country were cancelled.
I stocked up the fridge some more, cancelled bookings, and took long walks at nature trails with my dogs. I was used to the self-isolation and I had stayed well-informed of the virus already, but it was shocking to see many people continued life as normal with social events and going to restaurants.
Thursday 27 March at midnight – lockdown. Many people treated this as a joke with parties and last-minute fun. To many, it still seemed so far away. But I heard the helicopters overhead, I read of the army and police setting up roadblocks, and the government published new unprecedented laws. This was surreal.
Total lockdown, or Level 5 as we now call it, lasted 5 weeks and was one of the most severe in the world. Some of the regulations made no sense – such as a ban on cigarettes. Some were specially drafted for conditions unique to this country such as extreme poverty and squatter camps where it is impossible for people to keep a distance from each other.
Life, for many people, went on as normal. The poor had no choices – they were unable to stock up on food. The luxury of a freezer, a credit card, a healthy bank balance and an early payday, is not something all South Africans enjoy. Some employers were not thoughtful, or kind enough, to pay their staff a bit early in time for them to stock up.
Now we have entered a less-restrictive Level 4 but this changes nothing for many people.
South Africans are generally not an obedient, civic-minded people. They are even less disciplined than the French! The illicit trade in cigarettes and alcohol has gone through the roof, the poor have no food and no internet access to learn why they should stay at home. The middle-class is outraged because they can’t go surfing or jogging. Some of the new Level 4 regulations make no sense and the government is not explaining itself properly.
The curve has been flattened but many don’t understand what that means so they don’t see the benefit. The health system needed preparation time but the middle-classes with medical insurance didn’t see that need.
We can go outdoors to exercise but only early in the morning which for many is not sufficient or suitable. Restaurants may deliver food but you may not collect from them. Some business is allowed but under strict regulations, which 60% of them are ignoring. The Western Cape is the epicenter for the entire country and local politicians have managed to spin that in a positive light. Cigarettes are still banned, and I personally don’t care about that but the ban on alcohol is annoying – I have run out of wine and a glass is desperately needed to make sense of this madness!
I still feel like I am living in a science-fiction surreal film. My last tour was two months ago, and I mourn the fact that I have no photos of those clients. I’ve received the most heart-warming kind messages from ex-clients imaginable – thank you from the bottom of my heart! I will share them in another entry.
All my bookings for the rest of the year are either postponed to next year or they will be as soon as my clients can decide on travel possibilities. I have no other way to earn a living and am in a very high-risk health group because of my age and condition of my lungs. I am anxious and bored. And yet, somehow I still cannot find it in my heart to hate the government for doing its best in circumstances for which there is no precedent, no manual, and no guidance other than a science that few understand.
These photos represent some of your favourite places and sights in South Africa! please come back soon, they will still be here.