On 5 March 2020 the first known case of Covid-19 was recorded in South Africa and ten days later a national state of disaster declared. On March 23 it was announced that South Africa would go into a 21-day lockdown from March 27. And as we know, nothing has been quite the same since.
To mark the anniversary of one of the strictest lockdowns in the world, we asked our team to look back and reflect on what they were feeling, how they coped and what they learned from it all.
(pictured top, an art mask from 10millionmakers.africa)
How did you feel before lockdown?
MELUSI: Geez. This was literally two days before my birthday! I definitely remember being anxious and thinking there’s no way I’ll survive this. I had all these scenarios play out in my head of how I’d end up in prison or being chased by the SANDF tank for not following the rules. I thought to myself, I can’t even go get bread anymore! It honestly felt like a new way of living was setting in. Anxious and freaked out best answers this question.
LOUISE: ‘Argh!!!!” Everything was suddenly moving far too quickly and I was definitely stressed about it! It was overwhelming. One day I did go cry in the park with my lunch, before that was banned of course. That said, after the tears, I really bought into this mood of ‘Let’s do this, we’re going to beat the virus!’. I was extremely naive. I thought it would last only 21 days. It felt like the ‘right’ thing to do and the President’s speeches gave me confidence that we would beat the virus, together, at home…
HUGUETTE: It was exciting at first. Never in my life did I think I would live through a global pandemic. Most people were terrified to go grocery shopping but I made this my mission at least three times a week, just to see what life outside the house was like. Things changed when I was forced to spend my birthday (April 18) in the house without my friends :(. From then on, the excitement ended.
LAURICE: Last thing I remember before it all became real was a sombre meeting a few days before South Africa’s lockdown with my In Your Pocket colleague publishers across Europe. They were incredibly gloomy. I was super cheerful. They must have thought I was nuts but were too polite to say it. Looking back I am pleased they took that approach. I needed that optimism to make it through the last year.
How did you cope the first 35 days ?
MELUSI: I had to convince myself this was time to rethink and reinvent my life so I decided to sign-up for some online courses and read as much as I can. Needless to say, I finished none of the courses I signed up for. Fortunately, I did manage to read 25 books (had a goal to read 50 by the end of the year). I also had frequent calls with close friends to touch base.
LOUISE: I started a WhatsApp broadcast and added loads of my family and friends. Daily I would send a photo and an update with some thoughts and news about things we did, generally as light-hearted and positive as possible. It was brilliant for me to work out my emotions about the experience and find some good moments. It also reconnected me to a lot of old friends and hearing about their lockdowns in other corners of the world gave me a lot of perspective. In the end I actually did this for more than 150 days!
HUGUETTE: Mom dad and two brothers forced to cohabit EVERY SINGLE DAY was not as much fun as I had hoped. Many times my personal space was compromised because we’re all in each other’s faces all the time. We drew up a cooking, cleaning and prayer roster and posted that in the family Whatsapp group. On several occasions I called family meetings to make sure everyone understood the importance of personal space. On some days I would put on a full face of makeup, wear my fave pair of heels and a fire outfit just to go grocery shopping. On other days it was a mission to get out of bed. I remember doing a #21daylowcarbdiet thinking that would help me get through each day… until the lockdown was extended.
LAURICE: For the first time in as long as I can remember I wasn’t planning a trip, or what to do next. There was no reason to think of tomorrow. Simplicity ruled the day. All was quiet and there was a charm to experiencing a holiday at home. The first 35 days in many ways felt like a gift with its all too rare luxury of time.
What did you do to keep busy?
MELUSI: Lots of cooking! I had weirdly convinced myself that I can gain at least 10 more pounds during this time (didn’t happen of course) but definitely tried new menus and cuisines. I must say, cooking for one is rather depressing. Also I took some time to binge on much-needed comedy to keep my spirits up. Lots of people were losing their jobs and valuables, a difficult period to stay positive and upbeat about life so comedy helped.
LOUISE: Working! Despite tourism was collapsing around us in real-time, we decided to keep going and temporarily realigned to devote ourselves to free marketing for our industry by sharing useful information and stories. I’m not sure how I would have coped if I wasn’t always making myself busy with this!
HUGUETTE: Social media was my favourite escape, there were so many challenges that trended to keep people entertained, we all would nominate each other on challenges like #50situpschallenge. Besides the Twitter streets and challenges on Instagram, I kept myself busy with lots of cooking, Netflix shows and exercising from home. Everyday I took a walk in the neighbourhood. Regular phone calls with friends and family from around the world.
LAURICE: I cooked. I read. I cooked. I read. I cooked. I exercised. I scheduled 5pm whisky calls with friends. I relished the absolute quiet of Joburg, the heightened birdsong, the stillness of nature. I didn’t exercise enough for all that cooking. The memories of a trip to Cape Town in February where I did a walk on Table Mountain for a sunrise meditation, and a week or so before that a visit to Constitution Hill for a tour of the Court’s incredible art collection became life highlights in the absence of new experiences beyond the front door.
Advice you would give yourself now
MELUSI: I would be a lot kinder to myself. I should have definitely gone home to my family. Staying alone in Joburg for that long drove me to the verge of insanity! At one point I realised I had started talking to myself out loud.
LOUISE: Stop doom scrolling the news! And obviously, I would have advised myself to buy way more booze and cigarettes than necessary. I remember one day having an argument with my husband about putting wine in the stew. We had only a few bottles left, so we were discussing whether this was a ‘waste’ or not. There was another time I went all the way to Westdene (I live in Illovo) for a packet of Marlboros. I would rather have not been preoccupied with such schemes!
HUGUETTE: The quicker you accept the reality, the better. Take things one day at a time. And Stock up on the booooooze!
LAURICE: Learn Italian. If ever there would have been a good time to do this …
What did you learn from this?
MELUSI: To be kinder, generous and grateful for life. So much can change in no time at all!
LOUISE: How to make pineapple beer! Haha, and ginger beer too. Also that I can ‘cope’ with more things than I thought, although I couldn’t have done this alone, I relied on my partner a lot.
HUGUETTE: I learnt how to make KFC chicken from home but unfortunately I couldn’t learn how to make Jägermeister :(. I quickly learnt that life is precious and to be counted amongst the living is an honour.
LAURICE: How to be a serious online shopper and how to make an omelette a la David Higgs. More seriously – not that the first two items aren’t of the gravest magnitude – I learnt that I have much to be grateful for. Also that anxiety has little place when there is nothing you can do to change a situation. And those quiet moments (getting exceedingly rare), when the world is still and those you love are alright, are to be sought out and treasured.