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Op-ed: We are women, we are mothers

- Phindile Khulu

"We are in a strange form of lockdown" - The everyday realities of lockdown for women living in one of South Africa's rural communities

Our village is roughly 25 kilometres from the nearest town. This is where all the shops, healthcare and banking facilities are; no ATMs are placed in the village. Instead, we are expected to spend roughly R60 on transport before we can access these services. During the current pandemic, we have to rush to be in town as early as possible to catch the taxi back home again before they stop running. Failing that, we are forced to spend the whole day hungry in town waiting for transport to start up again in the evening. We are in a strange form of lockdown.

We are mothers. We are women discharged from hospitals with new born babies that have no clothes. We rush home for fear of exposing ourselves and our children to the virus. We must make time to go back into town soon, while we are recovering from giving birth, to be able to clothe and feed our children. We must leave them behind in someone else’s care when we do. We must find a way to pay for these services. We are mothers. We always take risks to save lives and meet the demands of our families.

When we do this, we are often met with force. In our village, soldiers are known for abusing people while carrying out their duties. As a community, we have little faith in our security forces and this has not changed now that they are at the forefront of the fight against the virus. Even when they conduct themselves with dignity and humanity, we do not trust them. Instead, we wait for the violent attacks we know are coming. We remember. We hold grudges. We are not surprised when security officials correct wrong with wrong. We suffer as one when someone breaks the rules. We are called liars when we come forward.

We turn to rituals we believe can help to fix our current stressful problems. When we perform ‘umsebenzi’ we can expect our homes to be turned upside down, for the foods prepared for the ancestral ceremony to be thrown away and our hopes along with them. We put our trust in medicine and travel in taxis to public hospitals to collect our chronic medication. We are accustomed to carrying appointment cards that have no collection times, only dates; but we are no longer used to being stopped and asked to provide permits for going into town.

We have read the lockdown regulations and listened to the Ministers’ clarifying statements. We see that we are allowed to travel to buy groceries and collect medical supplies. We do not see where these many infringements on our rights to food and healthcare services come in. We do not know where security officers get the idea that we need to queue for permission from our ward councillors, miles away, to travel to the shops.

We live with disabilities. We face an extra layer of indignity when we are asked to step out of the taxi, when we are told that our difficulties with the way the world is designed are wasting time. We are women and mothers, looking after children, expected to feed and clothe them and also educate them while the schools are closed. We worry about their shattered dreams and plans. We receive no compassion, only more pressure on our limited resources.

What we need is for officials to act swiftly to remedy this: to ensure that we are not stuck in town during lockdown, that we do not have to account for our trips to get essential items, that we do not crowd into one place to procure grocery ‘permits’, to guarantee that officials do their duty and stay informed instead of mistreating and misleading us. We cannot continue to face this strong arm, blanket approach. In the midst of this pandemic, we cannot be expected to endure further abuse from those that are deployed to protect and help us get through this plight. We must all be prepared for when the real emergencies arise.