JOHANNESBURG (AP) — South Africa’s coronavirus lockdown has brought a unique kind of discomfort to a country where memories of physical separation are yet to fade. Stand there. Step back. Don’t touch.
More than a quarter-century has passed since the end of the racist system of apartheid, or white minority rule. Many South Africans in this youthful country did not live it, but history, and its aftermath, are never far away.
Now it’s inequality, the sharpest in the world, that underlies the odd new daily existence. South Africa’s poor number in the tens of millions but, largely confined to crowded townships that are a legacy of the past, they are “the other” now.
In the jittery early days of lockdown, the homeless were scattered from the streets by police backed by soldiers — the military’s biggest domestic deployment since the end of apartheid in 1994. Their presence brought back ghosts.
Security forces, their guns clutched in hands covered by disposable gloves, now stop strangers and inspect their papers: business permits, IDs. Another echo from the past.
President Cyril Ramaphosa in late March urged the soldiers to be a “force of kindness,” saying citizens were terrified — of catching the virus, of losing often precarious jobs, of running out of money to feed their families.All have come to pass.South Africa now has the most virus cases in Africa, well over 19,000. The unemployment rate was already at 29% before the pandemic, and the Chamber of Commerce and Industry has warned it could climb to 50%.But most visible is the hunger.Authorities, aid groups and private citizens alike are handing out food. On one empty Johannesburg street, […]