Coronavirus seems a distant wealthy people disease in rural villages

Nofundile Phongwana, 65 and her husband Maliwa Phongwane, 68, are wary of coronavirus.
Nofundile Phongwana, 65 and her husband Maliwa Phongwane, 68, are wary of coronavirus.

Residents of a tiny Eastern Cape village rely on social grants and have no roads, clean water supply, toilets and health facilities.

Caca in Msintsana, about 80km from Mthatha, is one of countless such villages in the country.

It is a place where people are used to sharing drinking containers as umqombothi is passed around and friendly handshakes are part of the cultural fabric.

But is exactly villages like these that are giving SA's health officials sleepless nights.

The lack of infrastructure and desperate conditions make it highly susceptible to any diseases, and any coronavirus outbreak would be devastating.

Yet, while villagers have heard about Covid-19 and the impact it is having on the rest of the world, many are convinced it is an infection that belongs to “wealthy people”. 

Maliwa Phonhwane, the village sub-headman, recognises the danger any outbreak in the village would bring, but is sceptical that it will even reach there.

 ''If one of us can be infected, we will be wiped out, including our children and grandchildren. We know very little about this virus, we only hear about it on the radio,” he said.

But from what villagers understood, it was a contagion that affected those with money.

“It looks like it is a virus affecting rich and educated people who travel the world, not poor people like us. So I think we are bit safer in here in rural areas.''

''I am not scared. The only sickness that affects us as poor people is cholera, TB, HIV-Aids, ibekelo and idliso, cancer, malnutrition and kwashiorkor, as these associate with us poor people with limited resources. We do not travel with planes and ships.''

Villagers did fear for their children working in the mines in Gauteng and as farm labourers in the Western Cape, however.

Maliwa's relative, Nophumzile Phongwane, 82, said: ''If our children are infected and bring the virus here, this will spread like wildfire. I am not sure if it is the wrath of God or doomsday. I am very worried about my children, grandchildren and my great-grandchildren.''

While the rest of the country was bracing for the 21-day lockdown, life continues as normal in Caca.

Last week, hundreds of people attended family funerals, and in a week, villagers will go to Ngcobo to collect their social grants for the month.

The traditional handshakes and drinking of traditional beer continue, despite people having to relieve themselves in dongas. 

The government's directives on combating the virus seem like they are from some distant place.