It’s been more than three weeks since Moses equipped a kitchen, Yambu welded a gate and Mboni sold almost everything. For their shops and others on Soweto’s deserted Luthuli Street, it could be weeks, if ever, before they see business again.
South Africa has been on lockdown except for essential services to combat the coronavirus pandemic. If the results so far appear promising — crime at its lowest level in years, a downtown Johannesburg seemingly free of air pollution — there is a toll. Small businesses like these cannot operate.
There’s a Solly’s Electronics Store with no sign of Solly, and brightly painted signs with now-empty promises: “U call we deliver.” “Same day service.”
The biggest collateral damage in South Africa’s lockdown, which has been extended until the beginning of April, may very well be felt by the 2.5 million workers and business owners in the informal sector, which accounts for 36% of the country’s non-agricultural employment.
For many people living in overcrowded townships like Soweto and informal settlements, the coronavirus is a rich white man’s disease. Their main concern is putting food on the table.
And as lockdown settles in, the storefronts stay shut and food becomes a growing concern.
“Till death do us part,” the heart-painted undertaker’s shop says.
But it is padlocked, too.