Unlocking Lockdown

It has been quite some time since my last mutter about Coronavirus and lockdown, and quite a few things have changed. For starters some of the shops have re-opened and that was good news, however the inconvenience is considerable what with queues, people hiding behind masks and screens, mysterious arrows pointing in unwanted directions and of course the previously empty pavements suddenly swarming with people and I had to walk in the street on occasions to avoid large groups filling the complete pavement. I do however understand the need for things like this, it is the new normal I am afraid, until we can get a handle on this virus. Unfortunately I do suffer from poor hearing and many of these interactions are incredibly difficult for me. I even explored having a takeaway but would have to phone in my order and presumably hide until it was ready for collection. I tried to buy new safety shoes the other day too and sure as eggs are eggs so did everybody else in the shop (7 at a time please). I also attempted to buy a piece of wood for my bedside table but it was made so complicated that I did not go ahead with the purchase. I am afraid that I am not the only one in this boat, many people are just not going to visit the shops or even attempt social interaction. 

On my reading list this past week was a book about the 1918 Spanish Flu epidemic and it made for interesting and chilling reading. More people died from Spanish Flu than the total number of cases and deaths from covid-19. While gravehunting in South Africa I noticed that a years deaths would take up roughly a page and a half in the cemetery register. However, when it comes to 1918 suddenly there are 4 or 5 pages just for October! The book I read had a chapter on South Africa and the Flu and it seemed to peak in Cape Town and the mines in Kimberley and Transvaal were badly hit.

“Writing in the Conversation Africa in March 2020, emeritus professor Howard Philips, a historian at the University of Cape Town, said South Africa was estimated to have been “one of the five worst hit parts” of the world.

Philips specialises in the social history of medicine and has written two books on the Spanish flu’s effects on South Africa. He told Africa Check that the official death toll released by the government in 1919 was 140,000 to 142,000. This was for 1918 and 1919.  But the unreliable way the figures were calculated meant this toll was probably low, Philips said.

“There was no comprehensive death registration system in South Africa in 1918. There was supposedly for whites, but for Africans in [the Cape province and Transvaal] there was no requirement to register deaths,” he said.”  (AfricaCheck.org)

In other news it was announced that Tewkesbury  has had no active Coronavirus cases since May 24. At that point there had been 182 cases up till then. Hopefully this will continue though because all it takes is one infected person to walk down the street or go to work.   

The numbers game continues. Worldometers reports the following: There are 9 622 238 Cases world wide with 487 339 deaths. The USA still tops the charts with 2 477 876 cases and 124 485 deaths. The UK has seen a slowing in cases and deaths and while still at number 5 has 307980 cases and 43230 deaths.  South Africa has been climbing the charts though, it is currently at number 18 with 11796 cases and 2205 deaths. These rankings are for total cases, and look differently when total deaths is considered.: USA – 1, Brazil 2, UK – 3, South Africa – 25. The situation in South Africa is very difficult because of socio-economic conditions and often incomprehensible regulations. A report at Mybroadband.co.za stated “Liberty Fighters Network (LFN) and Reyno De Beer will be arguing in the High Court today that they believe that since of this morning Wednesday, 24 June 2020, the lockdown regulations are unconstitutional and invalid and that effectively the Lockdown is legally over.” Naturally this will get fought out in the courts, and huge amounts of money will get spent and eventually it will probably be settled out of court and the only ones who benefit will be lawyers. 

And that is it in a nutshell. Today it is supposed to be 32 degrees outside but I suspect we missed most of the heat at work. I remember those 37 degree days in Johannesburg in Summer, and the thunderstorms that often used to build up, apparently we are in for some of those too tonight too. 

Till next time… stay 2 metres away.

DRW © 2020. Created 25/06/2020

 

Remembering Pauline

War Grave photography can be a very rewarding experience, with highs and lows, and many times you are left shaking your head or just feeling angry with what you see. My post today is one that  finally had closure for me after many years. 

I was “responsible” for many of the original photographs that we have on the South African War Graves  website that covered the cemeteries and memorials in and around Johannesburg and a few other places in Gauteng. I found it very satisfying to do and it did help me when I was suffering from an extreme case of “cabin fever” in 2011 and 2012. Unfortunately though, many casualties had slipped between the cracks when the South African Roll of Honour was being compiled. Apparently the person responsible for that job was stricken with Spanish Flu and passed away, and the unfinished ROH was adopted and the files of those who had not been processed were stuck on a shelf. 

In 2012 we started the record card project in an effort to photograph as many of the WW1 record cards as possible. The end goal being to submit the names of those who had slipped through the cracks to the CWGC and ultimately to have them added to the ROH.  When Ralph and Terry started to submit names for inclusion to the CWGC, one of the graves I went to find was that of PAULINE HERMIONE EMILY PAFF, a Probationer Nurse with the South African Military Nursing Service. She died of pneumonia and influenza, at Johannesburg Hospital on 20 October 1918 and was omitted from the ROH.

She is buried in Brixton Cemetery in the “EC” section (“English Church”) although that does not necessarily mean that the grave would be easy to find. Brixton is a big cemetery and there are very few grave numbers/markers and no real coherent plan of what is where. Fortunately I know the cemetery quite well and because I photographed the war graves can identify a section based on known graves.  Pauline’s grave was close to the fence of the Jewish section and a few graves close to where I was stung by a bee in 2009. By the time I left South Africa in 2013 no headstone had been erected although she had been approved for inclusion in the ROH and on the CWGC lists for South Africa

This past week Sarah Welham Dove was able to send me a photograph of her headstone and I was finally able to get closure over this grave. Pauline has been remembered and no longer does she rest in an unmarked space in a cemetery that is rapidly deteriorating due to indifference. 

I am also hoping that in the intervening years a headstone has been erected for Chris Charles Doak in Braamfontein too, although there was a dispute about where he was buried. He was somewhat of a troubled chap and died as a result of an overdose of morphine. Hopefully one day I will be able to display his grave here too. Irrespective of whether they died by misadventure of through no fault of their own each is important, and that is why we were out there taking the photographs. 

 

Rest n Peace Pauline and Chris and all those who we are still waiting for an answer on. 

Gravesite in 2008

 

DRW © 2020. Created 21/06/2020. Thanks to Sarah Welham Dove for the image.

OTD: Soweto Riots Begin

On this day in 1976 Soweto literally exploded as school children and police clashed in what has become known as the “Soweto Riots” or “Soweto Uprising”. An estimated 20 000 students from local Sowetan schools took to the streets of the township to protest the introduction of Afrikaans as the medium of instruction in local schools. It was really the beginning of the end of the “Apartheid Regime”, but it would still take almost 20 years before a government elected by the majority of the people actually stepped into power. Between then and now there have been many changes in South Africa, although the ugly head of racism still rears itself and fingers will get pointed and arguments will get thrown about. 

Unfortunately amongst the many casualties of 1976 was truth and justice. Both would be sorely tried when the dust settled, or when the blood dried.  The figure mentioned in the Wikipedia page about the uprising  reads: 176 deaths (with some estimates ranging up to 700) and 4000 injured,  We will never know either because the government knew that they had used excessive force and had a serious problem on their hands, and they claimed that only 23 students had been killed.

The name most associated with the students is that of  Hector Pieterson (also spelt Pietersen) who was gunned down by the South African police and carried by Mbuyisa Makhubo to a local clinic and declared dead on arrival.  How many people still remember that name? I am sure it is ingrained in the psyche of many Black South Africans from that generation, and unwittingly led to Hector becoming somewhat of an icon. 

 

As a white South African schoolboy my experience of the events then is very different to that of Black school children so I can never really know the horror of what the riots were like as they ebbed and flowed throughout the country. I am sure that the police who faced those mobs were equally frightened of what may happen to them if they were overrun by a mob. You can be assured that mob justice would prevail, and in later years that could also entail “necklacing” which became yet another form of protest and execution. The Nationalist government was never able to justify their reactions to the riots, relying on propaganda, censorship and oppression of media. The concept of “fake news” would be very familiar to them, because they used it all the time.

Was it worth it? there are those who would argue that it achieved nothing, yet today the national party is gone, and so is grand apartheid, although it has been replaced by grand corruption and cadre deployment by the ruling party. Apartheid is still practised under the title “black economic empowerment (later BBBEE)” banner and things have not really changed in the lives of the very poor;  schools are still without proper toilets or running water, shacks still abound in the poorer parts of the cities, and the poor people still battle to eke out a living while the corrupt line their pockets.  What would Hector Pieterson have to say if he saw what South Africa has become? 

In Soweto you can visit the June  16th student uprising-memorial in Avalon Cemetery or alternatively the Hector Pieterson Monument And Museum is worth the visit.  I know that many would question the neutrality and objectivity  of the museum, but I know I came away with a different vision of the events of that fateful day. My visits happened in 2011/2012, so things may be slightly different now.

South Africa has never been the same since 16 June 1976, and we must respect the fact that children died for a cause they believed in. 

 

Rest in peace all of those who never went home on that day.

DRW © 2020. Created 15/06/2020.