Mass evacuation of SA townships on the cards to stop spread of coronavirus

Cape Town – Mass evacuation plans are at an advanced stage to possibly move tens of thousands of people across four provinces in South Africa.

Entire townships in the Western Cape, Gauteng, the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal are to be moved to safe zones in a bid to halt the spread of the coronavirus.

It is a plan to de-congest extremely dense informal settlements to prevent infection rates. In the Western Cape alone, thousands of residents from two informal settlements in Khayelitsha are to be temporarily removed.

The communities of Taiwan as well as eNkanini informal settlements have been notified of the plans to have them evacuated from their homes.

According to National Department of Human Settlements spokesperson, McIntosh Polela, these plans were already at an advanced stage.

“While this is urgent, it is also an initiative that requires a sensitive approach.”

While he could not confirm the number of people who would be removed from their homes, he said consultations would need to take place as many have historically refused to leave places common to them.

“Historically, our communities have resisted being moved. As such, we are careful that they are consulted and assured that they are going to be moved not far from the current place of their residence. We also cannot communicate some aspects of this initiative because of the ongoing consultations,” he said.

“Several communities in four provinces have been identified for the temporary relocations. The measure is aimed at mitigating the impact of the Covid-19 outbreak.

The department of human settlements is however not giving out the names of the identified communities, “because we do not want to cause unnecessary panic. We recognise that moving people from their homes can be stressful, hence we will allow for consultations to take place before giving this information publicly,” added Polela.

Land parcels have been transferred from the Department of Public Works and other state entities.

The evacuation plans come as the Minister of Health Zweli Mkhize announced that the number of Covid-19 deaths had risen to nine with 1505 infections countrywide. Two of the nine deaths were still being verified.

Three of these deaths occurred over the last 72 hours in St Augustine’s Hospital. This prompted Netcare and the local Department of Health to partially close the hospital after it was found that none of the patients had a history of recent travel, and hadn’t been in contact with anyone with the virus.

Eleven nurses at the hospital tested positive for Covid-19. Measures included the closure of the hospital’s emergency department and stopping all new admissions.

Speaking at a multi-ministerial press conference on Friday, Mkhize said protective gear for health care workers was on the way after government engaged several countries who manufacture the equipment.

This followed threat of legal action by unions to force the government to deliver the required gear for the workers who are on the front line of the Covid-19 battle.

Mkhize said on Friday authorities were talking to China, India and Germany to supply South Africa with protective gear.

“We have written letters to India, we are talking to China and there are suppliers in Germany. Cosatu and National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu) have raised the issue and we are engaging them,” said Mkhize.

Nehawu was late yesterday drafting papers to file at the high court on an urgent basis seeking an interdict on behalf of its members against unlawful and reckless exposure to occupational risk to their health and safety by the employer.

South Africa has now experienced a full week in lockdown and law enforcement agencies continue to act against citizens who are not abiding by the rules.

By Friday, the police had released 2005 people on a warning to appear in court. A total of 7450 fines had been issued and 124 people had been granted bail.

But even with the army and police clamping down on citizens who are not obeying the law, the executive mayor of the City of Johannesburg, Geoffrey Makhubo bemoaned the fact that many were finding ways around the lockdown.

“We have observed that many people are abusing the use of the permits granted to them, permits are not being used for the necessary essential services meant to be. There will be no tolerance to those misleading the law enforcement, people who are not complying will be arrested,” he said.