Our community: Leiden alumni abroad in times of Corona

The Leiden University alumni office collects stories of Leiden alumni abroad on how the corona virus impacts their lives. It paints an interesting picture of how people worldwide cope with the disease and the restrictive measures in their country from a personal and a professional perspective.

So far, you can read stories from alumni living and working in Geneva, Paris, Perth, Singapore, Torremolinos and Uppsala.

I’m delighted that the piece about my lockdown experience in Johannesburg is now part of this collection.

You can read the original article here, we also republish it below:

I immigrated to South Africa in 2003 attracted to the dynamics of a country filled with contradictions and a wonderful diversity. To experience these dynamics even more, I moved to the inner city of Johannesburg, lovingly nicknamed Jozi by its residents, in 2013. To this day I’m happy to say that being present in this city of extremes and its humanity in between grows my heart and my horizon.

28 April 2020
Today is unseasonably rainy and cold. It is also Day 33 of the South African lockdown which has basically closed down the country apart from essential services and also includes a ban on the sale of alcohol and cigarettes.
From Friday 1 May the lockdown restrictions will be slightly eased with a few more sectors, including food delivery and the sale of winter clothes, allowed to open for business. This will hopefully bring some relief to the many people who have been without an income these past weeks.
The current statistics for our country with over 58 million inhabitants are: 178,470 tests conducted, 4,793 positive cases, 1,473 recoveries and 90 deaths.

Unequal effects
In a country as unequal and contradictory as South Africa, both the Covid-19 virus and the lockdown measures will have similar unequal and contradictory effects: South Africa has a young population; close to 65% are younger than 35, which might lessen the impact of the virus. But the high prevalence of diseases like HIV/AIDS and TB means that many people in South Africa are vulnerable to infection, regardless of age. At the same time, due to this prevalence the country has experience in fighting infectious diseases and a widespread network of community health workers.

For the majority of the population that lives in densely populated areas and travels to work and school in crowded minibuses and trains, it would be much harder to adhere to a so-called “intelligent” lockdown than it would be for people living in the more affluent suburbs. Choosing a strict lockdown the government has created time to robustly increase the testing and treatment capacity that will be needed once regulations will be eased to allow more economic activity.

Education divide

Brilliant Khanyile offers an online teaching tip.

With the closing of schools and universities it became glaringly clear that e-education, my line of work, due to its limited implementation actually contributes to the country’s growing education inequality instead of leveling the playing field. While some schools and learners take to distance learning like ducks to water, for many more teachers and learners it is very difficult to access and use the digital textbooks and online resources that are generously made available by the various EdTech providers. The cost of data, the lack of devices and adequate network coverage as well as challenging family circumstances make it difficult for many learners to continue their studies.

From the (student) teachers that work for Flying Cows of Jozi I hear both encouraging stories of great creativity to continue engaging their learners, like building offline content websites that can be shared via WhatsApp, but also depressing stories of schools, teachers and learners that have just given up.

Deserted inner city
Without the hustle and bustle of the many small shops and street vendors selling clothes, housewares, traditional medicine and vegetables, my neighbourhood in inner city Jozi is eerily quiet. There are just a few people left to enjoy the beautiful, daily changing autumn colours on the trees in the small park across the road.

Security guards at Diagonal Street

Without the hooting mini-bus taxis and idling busses, I hear the remaining street sounds travelling up to my 10th floor apartment much more clearly. Not only the irritating roar of the industrial ventilator on an opposite roof but also cheerful birdsong and the easy conversation between the security guards that are posted at the opposite ends of the block.

Many of the city’s homeless people have found shelter in temporary refuges but I still encounter a fair number of hungry people around the supermarket where I go a couple of times a week to get my groceries. Like many South Africans I’m used to buying an extra loaf of bread, milk or canned pilchards to share with those in need. These days I buy a bit more but no matter the number of loaves, I often experience that heart-wrenching moment when just after I’ve handed everything out, another hungry person shows up. But that is also usually the moment that someone picks up on my unease and tells me: “Don’t worry ma, we will all share what we have.”

It is this care and humanity that make me grateful to be here and aware that across all our differences and circumstances we are all in this together.

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