South Africa

Cape Town's main road a twilight ghost town amid lockdown

Cape Town's main road a twilight ghost town amid lockdown

The main road which runs for several kilometres through Cape Town’s southern suburbs is normally abuzz with activity which ebbs and flows at different times of the day.

Normally by dusk on a Friday evening, each section of Main Road — which acts as the high street for the various suburbs on the route — is full of people from all walks of life. Some wait for a taxi home, others arrive in branded clothing on the lookout for a cold beer.

On Friday, however, with the lockdown firmly in place, it was nothing short of eerie.

Cavendish Square, which sits like a mother ship of consumer culture in Claremont, is usually a place of young teens or families out for early evening retail therapy, as the shops close at 7pm and the restaurants much later.

On Friday night, it was practically ghostly, save for the odd security guard milling about.

The roads that wrap around the complex of malls were completely deserted, the light of the department store commercials and traffic lights bouncing off the empty pavements.

Less than a kilometre away, it was hard to imagine that a lonely liquor store, just a day earlier, had a queue snaking around the block as people stockpiled booze.

The section of Main Road in Rondebosch near the University of Cape Town is normally bustling on Friday evenings: students getting takeouts, beggars sitting on tatty boxes or limping alongside pedestrians with outstretched hands, fast food delivery scooters zooming up and down, older diners from the leafy suburban grid of roads below the main road out for some fun.

But, on the first twilight of lockdown, it was like a city made of cardboard. A lone nurse walked past the tall blank facade of the Baxter Theatre and a single taxi cruised slowly along the road.

Further along, the road below Groote Schuur Hospital is normally filled to the brim with commuters from far-flung areas like Khayelitsha and Nyanga. But on Friday, there was not a soul to be seen, save for a community of homeless people who are locking down in their makeshift tents just in front of the wall at the bottom of the hospital.

Further along in Mowbray, where the Main Road curves down the taxi rank, the crowds have usually dissipated by sunset on a Friday but even so, foreign-owned barber shops and hair salons stay open, serving as informal gathering spots for African nationals from francophone countries like Rwanda, the DRC and Burundi.

On Friday night, however, even the social scene of the hair salons had been erased.

The road that leads down to the taxi rank here goes over the railway track and takes one to Liesbeeck Parkway just below.

This road is more suburban than Main Road, but normally on Friday night, even after the Mother City’s hideous traffic jams melt away, scores of cars move up and down between the suburbs and the City Bowl, or in the other direction towards the Indian seaboard to places like Muizenberg and Kalk Bay.

On Friday night, however, there was not a single other car or human being (apart from the person writing this story) for several kilometres.

Hell isn’t other people. Hell is a ghost town.