In the poor neighborhoods surrounding the city of Johannesburg, people wake up at 2 a.m. to make an important decision.
They must choose a queue, one of dozens of queues, that form in front of local community centers, schools and charities every day. Then they wait to see if anyone delivers food.
We saw these elongated chains of humanity as we drove the roads and dirt tracks in a place called Diepsloot.
Members of the queue cheered and shouted when they saw my car in beaten air, confusing our team with members of a charity or food distribution group.
“We’ve been here for two hours,” said Themba Mirian, who stood at the front of the queue in the community hall. “The elderly are here and they are starving. They just collapse because there is no food. “
“What do you feed your children? ” I asked.
” Nothing. We live in a cabin. There are ten of us in a cabin. How do we lock in a cabin? “
South Africa has passed the midpoint of its five-week lockout and in communities like Diepsloot it really starts to hurt.
Most here work in the “informal sector” – they sell goods by the roadside, keep cars or recycle waste – but residents cannot work when they are told to stay indoors.
In the queue outside the local high school, a man named Alex Chauke was savagely applauded when he told me that the lockout would get them before coronavirus made.
“If there is no food, we have to look for food, it is hunger it is not (by the way) the crown now. We have to survive. “
The shivering anger we experienced in this impoverished township has turned into violence and looting in other parts of the country.
Dozens of stores and supermarkets were robbed while frustrated residents took charge.
The human rights organization Amnesty International calls on the governments of southern Africa to urgently provide grants and food to the poor.
“With inequality and unemployment so high in southern Africa, the majority of people live day to day … they cannot afford to be locked up for a week, let alone for a month,” said Deprose Muchena, director of ‘Amnesty for the East and the South. Africa.
Aside from the strange patrol of soldiers, there was little evidence from the South African government at work in Diepsloot – although we did find a local charity called Afrika Tikkun with some supplies to distribute.
We made the discovery by following a kilometer long line to their front door. Through the fence, we spotted some of the 800 bags of vegetables on offer, but it was clear that hundreds of people in the queue – perhaps the majority – would come empty-handed.
I asked the general manager, Sipho Mamize, how they were doing.
“We had food today and we continue (say) to our partners, our sponsors, the need is still there … we have to shake up for next week. “
“I don’t want to be the person to say (to people outside) that there is nothing left,” I said.
“Unfortunately, I have to do it,” said Mamize.
In a place like Diepsloot, the pain of an empty stomach takes precedence over everything else, including the coronavirus pandemic.
But it’s something that residents will have to deal with when they have to.