HAJI MOHAMED DAWJEE: Why is no one listening? Pandemic proof is all around us

HAJI MOHAMED DAWJEE: Why is no one listening? Pandemic proof is all around us


My car’s been leaking oil for a while now. I’ve had it checked, had had the rings changed and all other kinds of technical motor related things that I have no understanding of, but had the service centre do anyway because I am obsessed with fixing problems – of course, I do wish I knew more about mechanics. The good news is, however, the garage I use guarantees their work for six months/10 000 kms, so I feel safe taking it back all the time especially, since I don’t get recharged.

This during a pandemic seems like a very small deal. Let it lie there, wait a bit, sort it out later – whatever. No one from my household goes anywhere with the car these days anyway, and the most I do is sit in it sometimes to work because having a new baby in a small flat can be a bit distracting. But the bigger problem is that the body corporate understandably does not want their parking lot ruined with worryingly large oil patches, and to be fair, I don’t want my warranty to expire. So I drove it to the service centre on Wednesday three blocks up from home.

Before I handed it over I made sure I was well sanitised, masked etcetera, as well as the car. I gave everything I possibly could a healthy wipe down including the key before handing it over. Of course the great part about where we live is that literally almost everything is walking distance from home, except maybe a theatre or cinema – but who needs those these days anyway? So I was lucky enough to not have to use public transport to get home. I resanitised and walked home keeping a very safe distance from everyone else outside. Obviously, my eyes could go wherever they wanted and I couldn’t keep my inquisitive nature in tact so I looked about a lot, started counting the places up to let, that sort of thing.

It’s a really sad sight. There’s a Thai restaurant just below our building that has been there forever, and now the building stands empty with a big "To Let" sign in the window instead of their usual: “We will not open EVERY Monday” – which always made me laugh. A lot of shops that once housed independent clothing labels are now shut down or having desperation sales to restock their tills somehow. And one or two supply stores that have been in Sea Point forever no longer exist. It was apocalyptic and depressing. But, there’s more.

Among all this ruin and evidence – as if we needed more – everyone was out and about as though it was a weekend, just doing their thing. They walked their dogs in their prams (is that really necessary) without masks on, ran and did their exercises unprotected, and - here’s the cherry on the cake - sitting around coffee tables enjoying their lattes with friends with absolutely no distance between them. They were just enjoying that occasional Cape Town winter sun and having a good ol’ catch up with zero gloves, sanitiser or masks between them. This was a scene at several coffee tables and counters at quite a few tables.

Meanwhile, there I was, rushing to get home, hands in pockets so as not to touch anything (I’m a toucher, I like to feel materials, so I now I just always keep may hands in my pockets). It was an unbelievable sight. Like something from a science fiction movie where only some are doomed while others are safe because they have some secret expensive tonic or something. What’s it going to take to start taking this seriously and start playing our individual roles? Does it only become real when someone we personally love or care for is taken from us? Is that when the harsh reality of the pandemic sets in? Is the sadness of those independent stores being shut down and some old mom and pop shops that have been there forever just not existing anymore not enough?

I recently lost my dad due to a brain tumour during the pandemic. Do people not understand how hard it is to lose someone under these conditions? My dad’s death was expected but there are so many people out there, healthy ones, who go into a hospital and never come out and die there all-alone. Does this experience need to be lived through in order for us to act right?

The infection rate is rising everyday, it doesn’t seem to be lowering any time soon. The death toll is rising. The public hospital beds are full and private hospitals will not treat you or at least cannot keep you if you do not have medical aid, in which case you have to be transferred, but to where?

This may not seem like the problems of a woman who is walking her dog in a pram with no mask on, but it is. It is our collective problem. And we need to start acting like it.

Haji Mohamed Dawjee is a South African columnist, disruptor of the peace and the author of 'Sorry, Not Sorry: Experiences of a brown woman in a white South Africa'. Follow her on Twitter.