OUR STRUGGLE IS VERY REAL
This Alex man shares how the lockdown has deepened his despair of trying to feed his wife and nine children
Alexandra, one of the largest townships in the country, has been hard-hit by the lockdown as people like Bongukuphiwa battle to keep food on the table.
Covid-19 hit the country.
To help citizens cope with the enormous financial burden caused by the coronavirus crisis, President Cyril Ramaphosa recently announced child support grants would be increased over the next six months.
While Bongukuphiwa welcomes the relief, he knows he must find a lasting solution.
“That is the children’s money. A grant is not something you can rely on for a long time. What will bring real change to my family’s situation is me getting a job,” he says.
The couple and their nine children all live in a one-room shack in Extension 8 in Alexandra, Johannesburg. The children, aged between 18 months and 17 years, sleep on mattresses lined up in the one corner of their home.
ALTHOUGH the shack is too small for everyone, Snegugu says they try to make it work. “We take turns to bath with my husband going first while the rest are outside.” During lockdown, there’s nothing much for them to do to pass the time.
“We sit. That’s what we do. We sit and wait for the sun to set and then go back into the house and sleep to wake up again the next day and do it all over again,” she says.
“It’s easy for the SANDF to pass by and think we are just non-compliant with the calls to keep a distance from each other and stay indoors but we just are not able to at this moment,” Bongukuphiwa adds.
“We simply don’t have the space to exercise physical distancing.”
While it’s almost impossible for them to practise social distancing, they are staying home.
But the national lockdown implemented to curb the spread of the deadly coronavirus has plunged their family, along with millions of South Africans, into despair.
All over the country, factories, shops, schools, restaurants and theme parks have been shut down. No work means no income for scores of households.
The longer the restrictive lockdown remains in place, the more poverty and food insecurity deepens, as seen with the recent looting of shops and the sharp increase in demand for food parcels.
Like many desperate South Africans, Bongukuphiwa is unable to go out to find work to feed his family.
“I am not lazy,” he says. “I used to wake up every day to go look for work. I want to work and provide for my children. They will only ever have one father and I need to stand up for them.”
He knows education is the key to breaking the cycle of poverty, which is why he wants his children to finish their schooling.
“I always tell them to read their books and get their minds right so when they go back to school, they can pass with flying colours and not just for now but for their next grade and the next,” he says.
“I didn’t complete matric and I don’t want that for them. They must finish school.”
HIS hope is for his children to have better lives. The kids dream of becoming pilots, doctors, lawyers, soldiers and firefighters. “My current situation means I have nothing to back up their dreams. Nothing,” Bongukuphiwa says.
“They need to finish matric and pass well. That way they can qualify for bursaries. But who knows, by then our circumstances might be different.
“I hope something opens up somewhere and I get an opportunity,” he continues.
“I can do any job, I am not picky. When I say any job, I mean any work as long as it pays me.”
His wife has also not been able to look for work and he hopes to change that once the lockdown is lifted.
“She has to stay at home and take care of our youngest three children because I’m unemployed and cannot afford to pay for them to be at crèche,” he says.
“As soon as I can find a job, they will be in crèche and with both my wife and I working, we will be able to change the situation for the better for our children.”
For now, the family gets by through the kindness of neighbours, who share the little they have.
“Not many would understand this, but hunger is real during this time,” Bongukuphiwa shares.
“Even more so when you have no salary you are waiting for at the end of the month and are not able to go out for piece jobs like me. It is tough.
“But I am eternally grateful to our president for his leadership and the help he’s given to the poorest of people. It would be unfair really to demand anymore.”
Government recently announced a R500-billion economic and social support package to mitigate the effects of the pandemic, of which the president pledged R50bn towards those who are most affected by the virus.
This includes, among others, a special coronavirus grant of R350 a month for those who are unemployed and do not receive any other form of grant or UIF payment.
The South African Social Security Agency (Sassa) will also pay out an extra R350 to child-support beneficiaries in May, and R500 in June and July.
Other grant beneficiaries will receive an extra R250 for the next six months.
Bongukuphiwa’s biggest desire, however, is to provide for his family on his own.
“As soon as I get a job, who knows, we might even qualify to get off the grant system so more people can get assistance,” Bongukuphiwa says. “I hope my days of depending on my children’s grants will be over very soon.”
‘I want to work and provide for my children’