South Africa has been in lockdown for more than two months in order to fight the global Corona pandemic. This was a challenging time for everyone, but the sisters have made the best out of a difficult situation.
The on-going Covid-19 pandemic was confirmed by the Minster of Health to have reached South Africa at the beginning of March, when an infected person returned from Italy. A few days later President Cyril Ramaphosa declared a nationwide state of disaster. This meant travel restrictions, closure of schools, use of sanitizers and face masks and limited numbers of people for gatherings. On the 26th of March, one of the strictest lockdowns worldwide was put in place. People weren’t allowed to take walks, exercise or take their dogs out. Only essential workers were allowed out, needing a signed permit to prove their status. Police and military worked together to ensure people were following the law; even in our town of Eshowe, soldiers patroled in the streets. Sadly, we often saw on television that in some parts of the country people weren’t following lockdown measures.
No religious gatherings
For us sisters, the lockdown restrictions also meant that no more religious gatherings are allowed anymore. Fortunately, in the Region of St. Clare we have priests staying in the same property with us. So we were privileged to take part in Holy Mass. Still, we observed safety measures such as not receiving the Blood of Christ, shaking hands during the peace greeting or the use of water fonts.
When the lockdown began it did not have much effect on the sisters’ daily lives. School holidays had started, and with many sisters working in Holy Childhood School, St. Joseph Children’s home and within our property, we would have stayed home anyway. Sisters who work outside the community brought work home before the start of the lockdown. Young sisters, who are doing tertiary studies, received assignments from their institutions to keep up with their studies. Sr. Teressa Zungu was sewing masks for our convents, people from the prison and other essential workers. Also, all sisters have been doing the work within the convents themselves: cleaning, watering the garden, doing the laundry. Fr. Victor Chavunga OSB has been very helpful by cutting the grass and trimming the trees at our Eshowe convents. And this uncertain period of time has also had some positive effects, as everyone has the opportunity to spend quality time with each other as sisters.
Preparing for the upcoming challenges
Most recently, our teachers in Holy Childhood School have been back to work, preparing the school for the challenges of educating children during the pandemic. We put safety measures in place, redesigned classrooms for learners and deep-cleaned all buildings. The first grades have returned to school by now, and we hope to continue this process in the weeks to come. The children’s home in Mbongolwane is also working tirelessly on a strategy for the upcoming challenges. During the lockdown, staff has been living within the mission to minimize contact with the outside world. We are currently working on measurements to ensure our most vulnerable children continue to be safe in the upcoming weeks and months, when the outside world will slowly return to normal life.
Growing numbers, country reopening
After five weeks of total lockdown, the country moved to Level 4 in May. This allowed some activities and industries to reopen. In June, the country moved to alert level 3 where most restrictions were lifted. People are now allowed to exercise at any time of the day and more economic sectors have reopened. But the infection numbers are growing, between 2000 and 3000 new cases per day have become the new normal. “Employees who could work from home and those with underlying health conditions are encouraged to work from home”, said Cyril Ramaphosa. Churches and other places of worship have reopened, but stringent measures are in place, e.g. wearing masks, constant sanitizing before and after services, and not more than 50 people attending a service.
For many families, the lockdown regulations posed a threat to their livelihood. People were going hungry, because they didn’t have any income as they couldn’t go to work. Seeing that a lot of families are on a financial strain during this time the government started giving some funds to support those in need. Currently we have nearly 50.000 cases and we are grateful that a lot of people infected are also recovering. It has only been two and a half months that our country is faced with this pandemic but it has done a lot of damage to our economy and our people. We pray for government leaders that they continue to seek what is best for all citizens and for an end to this pandemic.
Text & Photos: Sr. Maria Machi