Little did I know that when I embarked on my journey to South Africa, bringing a batch of my book Hippos, Hotspots, and Homelands with me, I will encounter ‘Hotspots’ again! International Travel to South Africa is open, but it is not without its pitfalls. Because of the Covid epidemic, visitors landing in Johannesburg are restricted to stay in the province of Gauteng since the borders are closed. Other restrictions are curfew from 9 pm to 4 am, no sales of alcohol, and a limited number of people allowed at funerals and gatherings. Restaurants are open with limited seating.
I was quite prepared for the above, but things got rather hairy! Let me start at the beginning, however. I thought I was proactive by booking my Covid test well in advance, 3 days. However, when I wanted to book in at the airport, the staff could not allow that since I had the test done 73 instead of 72 hours before boarding. When I presented my South African passport, the onus was on South Africa to accept me or deny me entry. So, the first hurdle crossed.
Well, the local flight to Dulles, Washington DC, was scheduled for 6 pm on a Thursday. On arrival, I would have about 40 minutes before the international flight left DC for Johannesburg. Precisely 6 pm, there was an announcement that the flight to DC was delayed by 3 hours. Therefore, I couldn’t make my international flight. The staff rebooked me, leaving on Saturday at 2 pm since I had another Covid test. My friend, Julie, dropped me off on Saturday, and I decided to wait at the airport for my results. Two o’clock came and went, and I had to be rebooked on the 6 pm flight. The flight was delayed again by 35 minutes this time, severely cutting the time to connect to the international flight. The flight attendant told all the passengers to remain seated to be let off the plane first to dash for the flight. Hurrah! That one was delayed as well, and I made it with a couple of minutes to spare. Hats off to United Air and all their wonderful staff members. By the way, they even upgraded me to virtually First Class, so I had plenty of legroom and a very comfortable flight!
All good. I arrived safely, spent some great times with my friends, Jeanette, Annelie, and Sterna. Then, I booked into an apartment in Sandton for a
week to give them a break and attend some business.
Might I add that it was bitterly cold in South Africa!
Well, things did not turn out the way I thought they would. Politics came into play when the ex-president, Jacob Zuma, was arrested and jailed for contempt of court. He still has a large following, especially amongst the Zulu people, as he belongs to that tribe. People suddenly went crazy, invading and trashing shopping centers, carting off trucks full of stuff, blocking main highways, burning trucks and businesses. An estimated 117 people died in the ensuing malaise.
There were ‘Hotspots’ in Gauteng and Kwazulu Natal, luckily not too near where I was staying. So my friends were safe as well. I had a bit of a scare, though, when I woke up to loud sounds of engines revving on Wednesday morning, some whistles blowing, and men shouting. I dashed to the balcony and saw about 5 or 6 police vans and many men in uniform. I rushed back inside, dressed as quickly as I could, and stuffed my important possessions into my bag in case I had to evacuate the building in a rush. I peeped over the balcony again and saw the cavalcade leaving through the security gates. Going down to reception in the elevator, my heart was still beating in my throat. Well, the receptionist assured me that all was good. I was in a very safe place since the security police members had overnighted in our building! Phew!
Things are calmer now since the Taxi Association and residents began to patrol their own areas, preventing looters from entering. Culprits have been identified, and there has been a large number of arrests. The President, Cyril Ramaphosa, has called for calm, and 25,000 troops have been deployed. People are shocked by these events. Some blame it on Zuma supporters, and others think that Covid and the resulting poverty, hunger, and deprivations might have led to frustrated mass action. It is heartening to see how local folks have been cleaning up voluntarily, trying to restore order. There are great stories of farmers sheltering people and taking food to residents in areas with nothing to buy and nowhere to buy anything. Of course, many people have now lost their jobs since businesses were destroyed and losses total billions of dollars. The unrest occurred only in certain pockets in the country. Let us hope that reason and law and order prevail and that South Africa can regain stability.