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Coping with the Covid-19 Pandemic in Oranjeville and Deneysville – South Africa

The Covid-19 pandemic which is currently plaguing the world has come along with tremendous adverse repercussions which are even worse among the most vulnerable people. The impact is crippling the world’s economy and leaving many people jobless and even in the unthinkable state of hunger and starvation for the less privileged. Those affected the most are the children of deprived families across the world. Here in South Africa, particularly in small towns such as Oranjeville and Deneysville where I serve, there are families who live on £1 a day. They can hardly afford the balanced diets required for healthy living and these include street children, homeless adults, children and youths, HIV/AIDS infected people and children living with their grannies or single mothers. Considering the waste of food in the affluent cities across the world; I am of the view that we can support any scheme, which provides nutritious food through a drop-in centre for less privileged kids hit hard by Covid-19 or families facing hardship which are easily identifiable in these communities.

The number of victims here in South Africa is increasing daily and I have personally lost count of the affected victims of the Covid-19 virus. Medical assistance has been requested from Cuba to help handle the situation, and over 200 Doctors and other medical practitioners from Cuba were brought into the country. It’s a tough time also for us as a church here in this part of the globe given the present situation. The Covid-19 pandemic invites us all to be in solidarity: and share in what I will describe as “The Joy of Giving”.

Religious ethos reminds us that the vocation of living for others is a rule of nature. Our Christian ethos and morality teach us that we are not individuals living in isolation, but rather a community of believers. By so speaking, we are all born to help each other. Being our brothers’ and sisters’ keeper should be our goal as we read from the book of Genesis (Gen: 4:8-10). In times of a pandemic of this nature, our joy of living and being alive needs to be extended to others, especially the less privileged.

Supporting the vulnerable during the Covid-19 pandemic lockdown is something that we all need to do. Many NGOs’, including the government as we know, have taken the initiative to open solidarity funds to assist those in need. However, this is not enough and not all are reached by the existing Covid-19 relief programmes. The cry for food, the longing for sustainability by the poverty-stricken, is something that should reach the ears of all. We need to respond like God did to the plight of the Israelites in bondage; where He affirmed that ‘the cry of my people has reached my ears.’ (Exodus 3:7-9).

Declaring a lockdown comes with challenges for many, but these challenges are more severe on the poor! Food support is a vital emergency measure to the vulnerable people at this time. To help the poor, is to assist them observe the lockdown regulations, so they do not risk their lives. Considering the contagious nature of the virus, if the poor are not in good health, “we too shall not be”. Their plight is ours as well.

It is with this sentiment that I felt the support received through Missio and some parishioners, at the height of the lockdown was vital and timely for the little communities of Deneysville and Oranjeville which I am happily serving. The sum received enabled us to buy food, clothes, sanitizers, and other valuables that helped to reduce the plight of the weak. Indeed the joy on their faces and in their hearts, was factual and even the blind were not left behind including children as can be seen in the photos.

What South Africa has seen and continues to experience in the current pandemic with its increasing number of victims every day, is the harshest I have ever come across. The lockdown which is necessary has seen us moving from stage 5 to stage 2, and now we are in adjusted stage 3 with all its consequences. The country was closed from March 2020 till September 2020 when it was reopened; but before we could think of rejoicing at its reopening, it was closed again till date. The Churches are hit hard; especially the Catholic Church which forms only between 6 and 8% of the population. The priests and missionaries alike are bound to search for means of sustaining themselves as well as keeping the small communities of faithful alive and motivated in their faith. We are currently at a time whereby before a penny is spent, one has to think and think hard.

However, amidst all this, there is the certainty that God is there, and indeed he is here with us; and that God is in charge, and that God never forgets his people. Even though many are dying, with no proper and befitting funerals given to loved ones who have died from Covid-19; there is hope. The long awaited vaccine is around the corner with all the scary tales that surround it. Outdoors activities and social gathering are prohibited and this is not easy for South Africans who are notoriously outdoor people and overly sociable.  In the midst of all the pain and desolation, ‘we know our redeemer lives!’ (Job 19:25). With such hope, we are consoled and encouraged to stay safe as the struggle continues.

We entered the New Year 2021 with, a silent and quiet joy, that the Lord has given us the New Year! Nevertheless, I draw inspiration from the Nigerian novel, Things Fall Apart, written by Chinua Achebe, in which he writes that: “The year that Okonkwo took eight hundred seed yams from Nwakibie was the worst year in living memory. Nothing happened at its proper time; it was either too early or too late. It seemed as if the world had gone mad. The first rains were late and when they came, lasted only a brief moment… The drought continued for eight market weeks and the yams were killed… The year had gone mad. When the rains finally returned, they fell as it had never fallen before. Trees were uprooted and deep gorges appeared everywhere.”

That year, the harvest was sad, like a funeral and many farmers wept as they dug up the miserable and rotting yams. One man tied his cloth to a tree branch and hanged himself. Okonkwo remembered that tragic year with a cold shiver throughout the rest of his life. It always surprised him when he thought about it later that he did not sink under the load of despair. He knew he was a fierce fighter, but that year had been enough to break the heart of a lion.

“Since I survived that year,” he always said, “I shall survive anything. Indeed we shall look back and say, if we survived 2020, with the Covid-19, we shall survive anything.”

By Sylvester Ponje MHM, Sasolburg, South Africa.

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