Eastern Cape faces a subdued festive season

Eastern Cape faces a subdued festive season

The festive season won’t be the same in the Eastern Cape this year, with fewer travelling after losing their livelihoods during the lockdown and physical distancing at traditional ceremonies on the cards.  

In a year in which millions of people have faced death, job losses and financial devastation owing to the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown, there is nothing some want more than to relax in their family homesteads in the Eastern Cape in December.

“I cannot resist going home in December,” said Nombulelo Mrwata from New Rest in Gugulethu, Cape Town. Mrwata, who has worked in a kitchen for the same employer for 13 years but was paid a reduced wage during lockdown, is heading to Lady Frere this month. The 63-year-old, who has high blood pressure and arthritis, lost her sister-in-law to the coronavirus. Her family also lost a young child because of the pandemic. 

Nozipho Maphuphu, 45, lives with her two adult sons in the Ladies Park extension of the Kwakhikhi shack settlement near Gugulethu, which was built by the children of former hostel dwellers to offset the effects of overcrowding in the main hostel. Nozipho’s sister, Nomalungisa Maphuphu, 36, lives with them and was about to give birth at the time of writing. Only one of Nozipho’s sons still has work, as a security guard.

Nozipho went home to the Eastern Cape briefly during lockdown for a funeral. “But to me, being home means staying there for over a month, and then I will feel good about being home,” she said, adding that the family leaves for Cofimvaba on 13 December.

Funeka Mshweshwe is heading home from Cape Town a few days before Christmas to Gatyane in Willowvale, Eastern Cape. “My only concern is the amount needed to make the trip, as adults pay about R700 each way,” she said. 

Mshweshwe had a terrible year after her uncle died from the coronavirus and she lost her job at an early childhood centre. She said her three young sons suddenly found themselves waiting at home while she went to look for food. 

“Boy children always raid the bread bin and finding it empty, they throw a tantrum. It seems bread is a boy’s lifeline. My brother-in-law also lost his job. This meant my sister’s four children had to come stay with us. Suddenly, they were seven [children] in the house. I just couldn’t take it.” She was eventually offered a stipend to work at the crèche, which she said helped a little. 

‘It was tough’ 

Fuku Maqendwanana, 71, is planning to leave the Cyril Ramaphosa shack settlement in Cape Town and move to the village of Gqaga in Engcobo, Eastern Cape. He said many of his church friends had died from the coronavirus. Five of his six sons lost their jobs and were no longer able to support him and his wife. “It was tough for me, but even tougher for my sons, shame,” he said.

Gugulethu-based long-distance truck driver and father of two, Onke Khusa, 30, and his five siblings all lost their jobs during lockdown. “I’m holding piece jobs so I can leave for Cofimvaba in December, though,” said Khusa.

For others who lost their jobs this year, there is no way to afford the trip home. Bonelele Mbilini, 34, a resident of the Lingelethu shack settlement near Motherwell in Port Elizabeth lost her job as a farm worker, packing oranges. “I can’t visit my family in Tsomo because I have no money. This coming holiday, I won’t do umcimbi [traditional function] at all because my husband and I don’t have jobs,” she said. 

Mandlenkosi Mazonda, 58, of Kamvelihle in Port Elizabeth, works as a driver. “Sometimes I argue with my wife when I only bring R150 from work, because since this COVID-19 virus I sometimes worked two or three days a week. All my earnings went into deductions. I want to go home in December but I have no money. There will be many events such as weddings and initiation ceremonies. In December, we will sit here and look at each other in the eyes,” he said.

Lungisa Dyasi, 42, from Zwide in Port Elizabeth lived and worked in Cape Town for 19 years. But after the coronavirus outbreak, he built a stand to sell fruit and vegetables and made “bank stools” (wooden chairs) and dog kennels. “Here at home, we are a family of seven and depend on our parent’s social grant to survive, which is not enough. Now I’m not sure how to plan for December holidays because the institutions I supplied have closed down, therefore there’s no way I can afford to travel,” he said.

27 October 2020: Lungisa Dyasi began making and selling furniture out of wooden pallets at home when he couldn’t find a job during the lockdown. (Photograph by Bonile Bam)

A number of small Eastern Cape villages and rural towns were not badly affected by the coronavirus this year, helped by the isolated nature of these areas and social distancing. Some pensioners across the province, even in the busy townships of KwaNobuhle and Mdantsane isolated themselves with signs on their doors stating “Please, no visitors”.

“Not many people lost their lives in Xolorha village, and because the houses are built far apart, we are not scared of immediate infections. I haven’t heard of people close who have succumbed to the disease,” said Nombulelo Mbotho, 50, who owns a spaza shop in the village. 

Festive season plans 

However, celebratory gatherings such as traditional functions where dozens of people cook and eat close to one another have barely taken place in lockdown. But they are a large part of the festive season. December traditional functions are also an important part of local economies. Many village-based farmers aim to make enough money to support their extended families over the coming year by selling cattle and sheep to those arriving from the major cities. 

Mvusiwekhaya Sicwetsha, the spokesperson for Eastern Cape premier Oscar Mabuyane, said there is an “emerging surge” of coronavirus cases in the province. “One of the activities for this season are cultural and family events. For these, too, we urge restraint and alert,” he said.

20 October 2020: Mandlenkosi Mazonda outside his RDP house at Kamvelihle in Port Elizabeth. A driver, he was asked to work part-time during the lockdown, which means he doesn’t have the money to visit relatives in December. (Photograph by Bonile Bam)

Sicwetsha said the provincial government wanted all universities in the province to put lockdowns in place on their campuses until the end of the academic year at the first sign of a COVID-19 outbreak. The Eastern Cape government has also set up 100 rapid response teams trained to combat “the possible second wave” in the 100 municipal wards that experienced high numbers of coronavirus cases during the first wave of the pandemic. 

He said the government is aware that more “superspreader” events may emerge. Last month, 125 University of Fort Hare students tested positive within three weeks in one of the “superspreader” incidents. They were taken to the Bisho hospital isolation site while 423 other students had to be tested and self-isolate.

Sicwetsha said that while ulwaluko (traditional circumcision) was prohibited across South Africa, the provincial executive council would be asking the national government “to allow ulwaluko for the December season”. 

But signalling a major change in the traditional practice of circumcision camps being under the sole management of the ikhankatha, who is in charge of the camp for the initiates, Sicwetsha said that if ulwaluko was allowed “each family of a young boy that will undergo ulwaluko will be responsible for the wellbeing of their child by ensuring wearing of masks, regular washing of hands with soap and water, and limiting numbers of people in each ibhoma to enforce social distancing”.

The government is banking on people continuing to wear masks and physically distance throughout their stay in the rural areas.

But in the village of Qunu, two grade 11 students say they feel that traditional functions must be postponed until December 2021. “Because as soon as people get drunk, wearing of masks and social distancing won’t be practised. In fact, we should rather postpone all events this year. The elders need to apologise to ancestors for the promises they could not keep,” said Aluve Zenani, 21. 

26 October 2020: From left, Luvumo Khwatsha, Aluve Zeneni and Khaya Mahlabedlula from Qunu village near Mthatha in the Eastern Cape have different views about holding imicimbi (cultural ceremonies) in December. (Photograph by Bonile Bam)

His friend, Luvumo Kwatsha, 19, agreed, saying “all those people who want to celebrate this December should wait for next year at least. Life is more important than imicimbi”.

But their classmate, Khaya Mahlabedlula, 21, said, “Customs and traditions are part of our lives. We are obliged to do them as Africans. If we don’t do the ceremonies, some of us will be sick. 

“In some situations, traditional healers are called to communicate with the ancestors. We can still do the events as long as we practise social distancing, wash our hands regularly and wear masks, and maintain the limit of people attending the event.”

This article by Anna Majavu, Bonile Bam and Tarzan Mbita was first published on social justice media publication, New Frame. 

‘Hijacking, robberies thwart E Cape efforts to stem COVID-19’

‘Hijacking, robberies thwart E Cape efforts to stem COVID-19’

According to an Algoa FM report, the Eastern Cape Health Department says hijackings and robberies in the Nelson Mandela Bay Metro continue to thwart its efforts to stem the resurgence of COVID-19.

The remark comes after a fourth vehicle, belonging to the department’s Tracing and Testing team was hijacked at gunpoint in Ward 19 in KwaZakhele last week.

Staff members were allegedly also robbed of their valuables.

Police later recovered the vehicle, with all four wheels missing.

Health MEC Sindiswa Gomba has urged communities to protect the department’s workers instead of harming, robbing and hijacking them.

She warned that if the department’s staff ended up withdrawing from certain areas, it would leave those communities vulnerable

COVID-19 infections in Nelson Mandela Bay are currently spiking at between 200 and 300 new infections, every day.

Mbalula hands over Sigidi, Makwantini access roads

Mbalula hands over Sigidi, Makwantini access roads

Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula has urged the leaders and people of Pondoland and the Eastern Cape to support Sanral’s multi-billion rand N2 Wild Coast Road Project.

He was speaking at the handover ceremony of the recently completed rural access roads to the communities of Sigidi and Makwantini in the Alfred Nzo Municipality.

“The N2 Wild Coast Road Project is the economic artery that is going to bring the Eastern Cape alive,” the Minister says.

He adds that it is a strategic project that will provide a national route to improves access to the east coast region of South Africa while reducing road-user costs and optimising safety, comfort and socio-economic benefits.

The Minister says more than 6 000 jobs are expected to be created during the project.

“Development must be community driven – that is why we are involving women and youth from local communities in the building,” Mbalula told community members.

The community of Xolobeni meanwhile surprised some people after gathering in Sigidi to welcome the Minister.

The residents have been at loggerheads with the Department of Mineral Resources over the issuing of mining rights to an Australian company without the community’s consent.

Their peaceful gathering was, however, marred by a heavy police presence, which some South Africans have slated.

First Eastern Cape COVID-19 fraud case in court

First Eastern Cape COVID-19 fraud case in court

The Hawks have made the unit’s first Eastern Cape arrest regarding the misappropriation of COVID-19 funds.

Pumza Gambula (49) appeared before the Mthatha Magistrate’s Court early on Thursday on two fraud charges, amounting to R4.8 million.

The OR Tambo District Municipality contracted Gambula’s company, Phathilizwi Training Institute, to conduct COVID-19 door-to-door community awareness workshops.

While the company did visit residents of Mhlontlo and Port St John’s Local Municipalities, they allegedly never conducted the workshops that they have submitted invoices for. They instead allegedly asked community members to write down their names for COVID-19 social grants.

The prosecuting team says attendance registers attached to the invoices as proof of services rendered contained names of people who were not staying in some of the wards that were visited by the accused as part of their “door-to-door awareness campaign.

These documents were widely circulated on social media and sparked a public outcry. 

Gambula was never paid for the  R3 036 000 and R1 821 600 invoices she submitted between March and June. However, the state says the municipality stood to suffer a potential prejudice by means of the said false pretenses.

Gambula has been granted R20 000 bail and is due back in court next week Friday.

The court has ordered her to hand over her passport to the investigating officer and report to Madeira Police Station twice a week until the trial is finalised.

Child labour reported in Mbizana

Child labour reported in Mbizana

Reports have emerged of growing child labour practice in Mbizana, in the Eastern Cape.

According to SABC News, children as young as 10 years old are used as child labourers for illegal sand mining at Hlolweni village.

Hunger and unemployment are cited as the main reasons for this.

A 14-year-old teenager told the public broadcaster that they do what they do to put food on the table.

A local NGO has raised concern over this, calling for swift action to address the matter.

Section 28 of the South African Constitution protects children from exploitative labour practices; from work that is inappropriate for a child’s age, and work that puts the child’s education and physical, mental, spiritual, moral and social development at risk. 

Despite this, however, in 2015 almost 600 000 children – mostly 16-17-year-olds – were reportedly engaged in labour in the country.

Black children were found to be more likely to be involved in the practice when compared to other population groups.