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Lockdown forces rural poor SA to risk wellbeing to survive

As millions of South Africans observe the now extended lockdown meant to flatten the COVID-19 curve, poverty has forced many out of their homes during this period.

For some people living in rural seclusion, it is near impossible that they will see anyone else, which can insulate them from catching coronavirus. Picture: Sethembiso Zulu/EWN

JOHANNESBURG - As millions of South Africans observe the now extended lockdown meant to flatten the COVID-19 curve, poverty has forced many out of their homes during this period.

The most recent living conditions survey by Statistics South Africa shows that close to half the country’s population is poor – meaning many people live from hand to mouth.

This is no different in rural communities, which are highly susceptible to poverty due to the lack of economic opportunities.

This week, Eyewitness News is casting a spotlight on how rural communities are responding to COVID-19.

"If I don’t work, I will starve," 22-year-old Love Ratswayane said from a wooden bench at an intersection that linked Madidi, Phasha and other villages in the North West.

With the lockdown in force, the young man cuts a lonely figure under a tree.

His sunken eyes tell a story of discomfort.

He explained that he arrived in South Africa from Lesotho just three months before the COVID-19 pandemic, hoping to find work.

But now he is forced to choose between being exposed to the virus and eking out a living picking up cow dung which is then sold as fertiliser or risk starvation.

"The government must help us with food, that’s when we’ll be able to stay in our homes. I am fearful whenever I leave home. We are terrified of this coronavirus, ask ourselves a lot of questions, wondering just how it will all end up."

A few kilometres away from the corner where we found Ratswayane are two young boys diving into a river with a net on a quest to catch fish.

A grown-up, who is looking down at this repeated exercise from a bridge, explained that they were likely hungry and looking for something to eat.

There have been many campaigns to get government to deliver food parcels to communities and increase social grants by R500 during the COVID-19 crisis but a decision is yet to be made about these proposals.

Until then, many South Africans in rural settings and elsewhere will be forced to choose between hunger and risking their wellbeing.

For official information about COVID-19 from the Department of Health, please click here.

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