Diary Pages: Why are we at the epi-centre?

The Western Cape has more than half of South Africa’s COVID 19 cases. This week we asked our diarists: Why do you think the Western Cape remains the epicentre of the COVID-19 virus in South Africa? A strong narrative arising from our diarists is that residents have not been able to  prevent the spread of COVID-19. A key reason for this is structural conditions in which people live, including crowded informal settlements that prevent people from social distancing or limit access to water. Other diarists reflected on the enforcement of lockdown regulations, the role of government and factors such as the impact of tourism and the weather. 

Crowded living conditions

Many diarists argued that the social distancing required to prevent the spread of COVID-19 was impossible: ‘People live in extremely small shacks…Your next door neighbour lives less than a meter from you’, writes Fadwah, in Hangberg.  Alongside social distancing, they noted, following recommended hygiene protocols was also difficult where people relied upon communal taps and toilets.

Western Cape is racially segregated and the poor are set on the outskirts where there is no proper sanitation, congested housing. These poor people need space for social distancing and they need proper sanitation to wash their hands so they can be safe from the virus”. Esethu, Khayelitsha

While all metros have informal settlements, Papama, in Khayelitsha, believes that the Western Cape in particular has ‘too many informal areas’. For Nomaxabiso, the province was ‘overpopulated’ because ‘people get here to find jobs’. Whilst the province ranks fourth in terms of population density in the country, several diarists emphasised this fact, comparing the area to the less-dense provinces of the Free State and the Eastern Cape.

‘The reason why I think the epi-center is WC is due to the high population within the province. As many move from informal provinces such as the Free State and Eastern Cape to seek employment…the province is home to top University/institutions which host various individuals from around the world’. Nicole, Lavender Hill

‘Western Cape is a busy province, this is where most businesses really operate, it’s where most people reside. And everyone wants to go out there and make a living. Which attracts more of the virus’. Ash, Delft

Stopping the spread: masks, distancing and hygiene

A number of diarists were concerned that those around them were not taking enough precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19, such as wearing masks, or maining social distance. 

‘The first week of lockdown I could see even in my community that they had no regard for their own or others’ lives as adults and children was roaming the street without fear. They don’t even wear masks when they walking outside to the spaza shops. It really put fear in me and my families’. Warren, Hangberg

‘…the people [in the] Western Cape…visit their friends, they walk in the streets without safe masks. Most people don’t go and check their Coronavirus status, so even the one affected by the virus but don’t know…end up affecting others.so that is why the spread is high. Nathi, Disa (Imizamo Yethu)

I think people are over the virus and the attitude is fast becoming I am going to get it at some point which lowers one’s precautionary nature. Melody, Newlands

Several reasons were put forward for why precautions to prevent the spread of the virus were not followed. Alongside the structural factors above, diarists felt that Western Cape residents ‘still don’t take this covid 19 seriously’, as Andile, in Khayelitsha put it. Others such as China in Khayelitsha argued that ‘Community awareness could have also played a vital part’ in ensuring more people understood the need for social distancing. 

‘…people are not well educated about this virus, the only thing that has been perpetuated is anxiety and depression, panic’. Papama, Khayelitsha

Some of our diarists also saw alcohol consumption as contributing to people’s non-adherence to COVID 19 measures ‘because more people are sharing drinks and not doing social distancing’, writes Assie in Khayelitsha. For Esethu, in Khayelitsha, ‘the Western Cape is one of the provinces that has a high rate of alcohol consumption and that is a problem because people cannot protect themselves when they are drunk’.

Poor enforcement of the lockdown 

A number of diarists felt adherence to lockdown regulations could have been improved if the government had enforced the lockdown more effectively.  For Sim, in Delft, the ‘the government had given the impression of enforcing the rules and that idea got onto citizens, however that was never the case…that itself allowed people to do things carelessly’.

‘The answer is simple. From the very first day no one I mean no one monitored the situation if people follow the lockdown regulations or adhere to regulations. No one cared from Government Officials to even Local Structures. There was no clear plan on how the situation was going to be handled. No law enforcement, no police or soldiers patrolled to see if social distance is being maintained’. China, Khayelitsha

‘The police and law enforcement are not enforce the law in the residential areas where people don’t comply with the covid.19 regulations, they drive thru the areas where as they should stay on and make sure people obey’. Phillip, Hangberg

For some, the enforcement of lockdown rules is being done more in the suburbs than in the poorer communities. 

‘I think we remain epi-centre because of the way things are being done between [suburbs] and in the locations [informal settlements]…theres no visibility of them none whatsoever in our areas…Yet go to surburb areas, corner to corner they are visible…in the locations nd informal settlements people will remain going up and down nd infect one another with ths virus’. Nonceba, Khayelitsha

‘I have a friend who is staying in the suburbs (Edgemead) regulations were enforced there because the ins and out of residents was strictly monitored…I strongly believe the Western Cape did not do enough to protect poor working class families in terms of monitoring the situation especially maintaining of social distancing’. China, Khayelitsha

The Provincial Government responded poorly   

The responses of the Western Cape Government and City of Cape Town more broadly had compounded the issues of infection for some diarists:

‘The WC response is directed in the informal residence, they are not focused on those “white” settlements and I think that’s where most of our people get it’. Ayanda, Khayelitsha

‘…the  provincial  government  too they are causing  this by this unlawful  evictions  during  this  pandemic  homelessness  will  also  increase  infections  of COVID  I personally  feel  somehow provincial   government  is  failing  us in general’. Mpho, Seapoint 

‘…they [Western Cape Government] have not done enough work of awareness about virus and they have failed to put in place strict measures of precaution in shopping malls and monitoring if in things like public transport that social distancing is observed. Until Western Cape government leans towards saving life’s rather than livelihoods then we still continue seeing cases spike’. Bonga, Khayelitsha

The consequences of being a tourist destination 

Diarists pointed out that the Province and for some, the City of Cape Town in particular, is a tourist destination and could have been affected before other parts of South Africa, due to international travel. 

‘Tourist loves Western cape because it is a very attractive city of its riches…so lots of white tourist like to come and visit Western cape coz they fill safe and protected…so these tourist they are the one that brought this virus’ Nathi, Imizamo Yethu

‘I suppose, given Cape Town’s position as a highly attractive destination for tourism and business, it would have had early exposure to a number of infected people from other hard-hit countries…before lockdown in this country’. Judy, Newlands

Cape Town is just ahead of the curve

Some of our diarists did not read much into the current statistics. Natalie, in Newlands, thinks ‘it will be the same for all the provinces over time. We just didn’t contain it enough in the beginning’… And for her, the Western Cape is ‘now a bit ahead of the other provinces’. Sharing a somewhat similar view was Melody, in Newlands who ‘feel that …the urban areas would naturally make the spread easier’.

Initially it was probably because of all the people traveling in and out; but I think we’re just ahead of the curve unfortunately … I read Gauteng’s cases are now exponentially on the rise, they will catch up soon I’m afraid. Audioman, Newlands


  • Does the country need to revisit the idea of area-specific COVID 19 lockdown levels?
  • As the lockdown rules are further relaxed, what is the role of the government and what is the role of the individual in managing the spread of the virus?
  • What should the government (local and national) do differently in raising communities’ awareness of COVID 19?
  • What lessons can be drawn for the rest of the country in the fight against this pandemic?

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