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Living in a lockdown

Living in a lockdown

17 April 2020

As South Africans, we relished our freedom of movement and took it for granted until we were faced with a five-week lockdown to halt the spread of the sinister  coronavirus pandemic. So how's it going, Cape Town? We checked in with three CBD stakeholders who either live or work in the Central City to find out how their weeks are panning out.

Let's face it: it’s a very bitter pill to swallow, a raging pandemic sweeping the world, ravaging lives and livelihoods, causing medical mayhem and mental anguish. Thankfully, our Government stepped in, assembled a team of world-class experts and the next thing we were living in a 21-day lockdown, like many citizens around the world in a bid to flatten the coronavirus curve in South Africa. Then the lockdown period was extended, for better and worse, with many people battling to keep businesses afloat and put bread on the table. We asked three CBD stakeholders to take us through their experience thus far, week by week.


Joel Bronkowski is a CBD resident of Mutual Heights in Darling Street where he lives with his wife, Annchen. He works in the tech industry for Paystack which “helps African merchants get paid by anyone, anywhere in the world”. Here are his impressions of Lockdown.


I am from California in the United States and have been living in Cape Town with my wife, Annchen, since last year. We love exploring the city, but this has now come to halt since Lockdown.

My wife has an autoimmune disorder, so we’ve been careful and have been at home for two weeks. We bought some groceries prior to Lockdown and have been ordering online from Checkers as well. Usually, the CBD is vibrant, which is why we love it here, but now it is quiet. I have, however, noticed lots of homeless people. 

I have been very productive, working, exercising and cleaning. I must say I do feel a lot healthier than I’ve been in a long time. We’re fortunate in that we have access to a big parking garage and the only time we’ve left our apartment has been to exercise there.

Lockdown hasn’t disrupted my work routine very much. I am used to working from home and from a co-working space in the CBD. Lockdown has impacted more on Annchen, who is currently doing her PhD at UCT. Lockdown has slowed her progress.

We have not really had restrictions or specific rules at Mutual Heights although our pool and gym are closed. We have seven elevators in the building and the only change I’ve seen are notices in those entry points advising residents that we’re on Lockdown. We’ve also been advised that a staff member is staying on the premises for the lockdown period in case people need help, something I appreciate.

Another exciting thing is that I recently started a WhatsApp group with all the residents as we all live here but don’t know each other. It’s comforting that while we’re apart, we’re connected in a digital space.


My routine hasn’t changed much. I’m still seeing homeless people walking around and am still exercising in our parking garage, which has become the new hangout spot for residents here! 

It’s been heartening to see how people are collaborating to help those who are less fortunate. I have been very impressed with Cape Town Together which I joined as it facilitates Community Action Networks (CAN) through which people from one community can share information and support vulnerable residents in another.

It’s great to see people from all backgrounds working together. Our network in town partnered with one of the groups in Khayelitsha and I was able to assist in a small way. I would like to do more. I feel Lockdown makes it difficult to help people as one can’t travel at the moment. 


Nothing much has changed for us. On Tuesday I noticed a long queue of people at a Capitec ATM … perhaps people needed to buy food.

I have been getting more involved with Cape Town Together as I have some free time. Our group in the CBD has come up with a plan to raise money for food parcels for a couple of hundred families in Khayelitsha and need R400 to feed each family for a month. So far, we’ve raised money for about 50 to 60 families. We were also involved during the evictions that took place in Khayelitsha and quickly put together sandwiches and had someone drive them over. We have also now supplied the CCID with 500 masks (donated by Ballo, Enkosi Bags and the Gabriel family) for distribution to its partner NGOs.

I have also tried to get other Mutual Heights residents involved but no one responded, which bothered me. It’s hard to understand why people aren’t willing to help. Most of us living in this building have it really good.

Today I had a virtual gathering of 120 colleagues, organised by my company. I also hosted a virtual quiz and an online poker tournament via an app.

Usually we spend time in Durbanville with my mother-in-law over the Easter weekend. Obviously, this Easter has been different. My wife is a really good cook and we also bought chocolate marshmallows and kind of overindulged on Sunday.

I am an extrovert, so I have found the lockdown challenging. I like socialising with people so I try to call someone every day, whether it’s a family member or a friend. It’s not the same as being with them, though.

I wasn’t surprised when Lockdown was extended, it seemed like the right move. But I look forward to getting out and about, being in nature, eating at restaurants, going to the beach. I am also looking forward to driving again – I miss it.


Pharmacist Shafiek Ferguson owns Barr’s Pharmacy and has been working in the CBD for 20 years. This is his experience of Lockdown.


The first week of Lockdown has been quiet, which is different to what we’re used to. The CBD is normally bustling with people from all walks of life. We are seeing a lot of homeless people though and we give them water and food when we can.

We are only running at 10 % of what we normally do and aren’t making money. I don’t know if we can sustain this. Only half of my staff are working, and we have changed our working hours from 08h00 to 17h30 to 09h00 to 16h00. We usually have strict safety measures in place, and these have been intensified now. Staff members wear gloves, masks, have sanitisers and have to adhere to a standard operating procedure that has been put in place.

Despite the lockdown we are still maintaining our high standards and doing our best to meet our clients’ needs. We cater for vulnerable customers, and either deliver items or send prescriptions to pharmacies closer to their place of residence.

We were prepared for Lockdown, but we weren’t ready for the panic buying that took place before it was enforced with people stocking up on vitamins.


Our second week has remained the same in terms of operations. Initially we struggled to get customers to adhere to physical distancing, but this has improved as people are realising the gravity of Covid-19.

My business has been affected by Lockdown, but I am fully behind it and believe the Government has done well and been transparent. Some of my staff have had problems getting to work and have had to pay more as minibus taxis are now only allowed to carry 70 % of their usual passenger capacity.

There are some businesses out there that are putting profits before people, but I believe we all have to pull together for humanity. We can build businesses again, but we can’t build people.


This week was much quieter than the first two. Our customers seem to be getting used to the situation and are abiding by the rules. The panic buying has also stopped.

We didn’t trade over the Easter weekend. We decided to close because it was so quiet. We also wanted to give our staff a much-needed rest after a hectic and nervous two weeks.

We are prepared for the lockdown extension in terms of stock for our patients and, psychologically, to serve. However, with only about 10 % of money coming in, we don’t know how we will be able to meet our monthly commitments like salaries and rent. We are still emailing or faxing clients’ prescriptions to the pharmacy closest to their homes but we have also instituted a stop-and-collect service so clients don’t have to leave their vehicles when collecting medication.


Chris Wickham is the director of CCID cleaning contractor J&M Cleaning Services. Professional street sweepers from his organisation have been deployed daily during Lockdown to keep the CBD clean.


As a company at the forefront of essential services in South Africa, Lockdown has placed pressure on both our cleaning staff and management. At the outset it was important to put safety protocols in place with respect to social distancing and safety equipment. In a society of hugging and shaking hands, teaching staff about physical distancing has been a challenge.

Our cleaners are provided with protective gloves in terms of our contract with the CCID, but they now also have to wear masks. We also take the temperature of every staffer who enters our building. They have to wash and sanitise their hands and must stay at least two metres apart when waiting to go on duty. We also had to change our deployment strategy to reduce risk of infection as well as focusing more on hotspot areas, the outskirts and pedestrian safety islands to get the dirt out of the pavements within the city.

We have two teams of 20 cleaners that come in at 07h30 and 08h30 and finish at 16h30 and 17h00. This prevents too many staff collecting their brooms and dustpans at the same time and getting too close to each other. In addition, we don’t have parades where we would normally stand side by side and conduct a roll call and daily briefing. We also don’t have a nightshift as the CBD is completely locked down and quiet which means there’s no need for our services.

We have had attendance and punctuality issues and have assisted in transporting staff and collecting them at central points within Cape Town to ensure we have a full complement as expected by our clients. I think we have conducted a good service under the circumstances and we are proud of our management and cleaning staff that have gone the extra mile and have shown dedication and commitment to our company and the City of Cape Town.


We have settled into the routine of checking our staff’s temperatures, using sanitiser and social distancing. This is being monitored continuously by management and our screening team at our offices who are in full protective equipment at all times.

This week two staff members had temperatures of more than 37.5 deg C and were sent home for two days as a precaution. Fortunately, upon their return, their temperatures had normalised and they didn’t show any further symptoms.

We have noted that the number of coronavirus infections in the country increased this week to 1 585, with nine confirmed deaths. The teams are now more aware of the seriousness of Covid-19 and the importance of complying with all safety measures.

Transport to and from work has improved and we’ve had fewer complaints from staff although their fares have increased, which affects their transport budgets per month when you consider that trains, which are the cheapest mode of transport, aren’t operating.

As an essential service, we offer job security to our staff so that they can sustain their families, many of whom are either unemployed or not working through this period. We thank the City of Cape Town and the CCID’s management team for their continuous support.


The team has been working extremely well and we have further extended our social distancing by using the parking area at the back of the old Christiaan Barnard Hospital in Bree Street.

We are focusing on detail cleaning, disinfecting green bins and areas that require thorough deep cleaning. These areas are receiving our long-overdue attention as they’re not busy or occupied, and we have been receiving compliments from residents who say they have never seen Cape Town so polished.

On Good Friday we had a prayer session and thanked our staff. Thereafter, we delivered soft drinks and pies to all our teams – they went down well.

IMAGES: CCID, Anita Reed

Tags: COVID-19 Barr’s Pharmacy Shafiek Ferguson Mutual Heights Chris Wickham J&M Cleaning Services Joel Bronkowski lockdown