Sterkfontein Dam, 2019. Free State, South Africa. © J. Latchman

Solo lockdown blues

Oppi Stoep


It’s almost the end of May, next week is June — that’s about half way through the year that pretty much no one expected. It’s likely that people doing job interviews in 2015 and answering the: where do you see yourself five years from now? question surely did not even begin to imagine May 2020 being what it is. I certainly did not but could I still find myself surprised by the present moment?

Sweatpants, gym gear, sports clothes, tracksuit pants and a t-shirt; possibly flip-flops have been my daily wear for over sixty days of lockdown in the holy land of South Africa. I have made exceptions and put on pants and shoes and once, even a shirt for a particularly special Zoom call. But the essence of life has been the daily video and audio work calls, hours at the keyboard making sense of capturing the moment we are living in and occasionally, baking a loaf of fresh bread. In between all this is time with thirty-plus kilograms of chocolate labrador, household chores, tending my ancestors beautifully wild garden, feeding myself and making sense of my own plans for life, living and dying.

And unlike a friend who is in lockdown with her husband and two children under the age of 6 years, I am fortunately getting to experience lockdown solo. The merits or otherwise of a solo or shared lockdown are beautifully captured by Katharine Smyth, in Loneliness Is Other People — it’s worth a read, if only to marvel at the range and depth of the human experience. On a solo lockdown, I’ve learnt that despite my default solo settings — there was a wobbly patch after the first 3 weeks when; suddenly I was ready for a full-on relationship — and, as I said to a friend, one that I would be willing to accept with conditions the relationship came tagged with. It was that close. Thankfully, two full months into a solo lockdown, the feeling has properly passed. I feel restored to my former state of mild aloofness to relationships. Phew!

But life as I had come to know it over these past two months is about to change again — we’re about to drop to level 3 of lockdown in South Africa. Which means that most businesses are free to trade and schools and universities might reopen. Travel into and out of the country remains prohibited, unless it’s for essential goods or repatriation. Bars, cinemas and restaurants remain closed; public gatherings are still banned and as far as we know, you still won’t be able to legally buy a cigarette — although this has not stopped illegal sales. The really good news (at least on Twitter) is that we will be able to buy alcohol — with some rules and regulations about specific days and times. It will be legit to exercise at any time of the day but not in groups and the 8pm to 5am daily curfew has also been lifted. Lastly, all of this could not happen if the part of the country you live in is deemed a Coronavirus hotspot by governments health gurus. Of which there are many (more than I expected, which is oddly comforting) and sometimes they stop snarling at each other long enough to focus on keeping the nation safe from the Covid-19 pandemic.

The news of the new lockdown levels was met with much jubilation (for alcohol sales) and not a little bit of anger (still no tobacco sales) but beyond the petty politicking and general whining of the entitled class — there is also a growing bunch of South Africans who are choosing to stoically accept that despite the end of the curfew and changing lockdown levels, they are likely to remain essentially under lockdown; until the Corona virus has sufficiently quieted down or there is an effective vaccine. Handily, it’s also the general advice from government — if you’re in a high(er) risk group and can afford to stay home, then you should.

On the weekend, the New York Times did a front page special — printing 1000 obituaries, poignantly marking the nearly 100 000 (one hundred thousand) lives lost to Corona virus in the United States. A staggering number if you can stop long enough to get the number into your mind and then hold space to process it. One hundred thousand people, that’s little more than a full FNB Stadium in Soweto. Process that.

In a few years, it might be possible that we will look back on the corona virus death toll and the numbers may or may not be more than we imagined or less than it felt while it was happening. Either way, the numbers are mind numbing enough to me, even now, when it seems like the pandemic is just getting started on us.

In 2015 I certainly did not see myself working on a post-covid futures project, nor dare to dream that many people felt so very strongly that our health, education, social services, food, energy and the entire economic system of modern day life, was so completely broken. That a multitude of people agree that we need to change the way we function, so that society may more equitably and richly benefit all, is a hopeful sign.

Despite the toll on all of us, I’m glad that such a diversity of people, across the range of society, have been brave and honest enough to stand up, be counted and say with deep love; that our society is broken and must be made better, for all. It’s a beautiful surprise that the chorus for new futures for humanity is louder and arguably becoming more melodious than before.

I could not see that coming in 2015.



Oppi Stoep

Comms practitioner, aspirant writer and absent-minded baker at #WakeAndBake