Women in South Africa are finding themselves burdened even more by their responsibilities in lockdown. 

Women in rural settlements and townships of South Africa are enduring the brunt of the country’s economic lockdown, as they find themselves unable to financially support their families while subject to abuse and exploitation at the same time. 

Despite the implementation of South Africa’s economic assistance measures meant to assist vulnerable South Africans, many women, who are either breadwinners of their households or single mothers are struggling under lockdown. 

“In the last weeks, we have been seeing our women’s levels of distress increase, as they have been putting up with domestic abuse and theft not only from their husbands but also from their children. They also have to handle the stress of watching their children disregard the rules of social distancing,” says Quinta Titus, the director of Namkawa Ontwikkeling (Namko), a community outreach foundation which works with women in the impoverished communities of Namakwa District Municipality in the northern Cape. 

Titus says that, “The R350 stimulus check has not been able to sustain a single mother for a week, because we often have households consisting of eight or more people. This is usually because, when children become orphaned, their relatives take on the responsibility to care for them.”

The plight of women who are undocumented migrant workers in South Africa is even more desperate as they are ineligible for the R350 unemployment grant and other relief measures such as UIF (unemployment insurance fund).  

Lucia Mangezi (32), an undocumented immigrant from Zimbabwe and the only breadwinner in her household, says that she has been struggling to feed her husband and two children. 

Mangezi  is employed as a domestic worker and received her last salary of R2 000 at the end of March. 

“I arrived in South Africa in January this year, and I did not know that I would end up suffering in two months. My biggest fear right now is not of coronavirus, it is of hunger, because hunger might take my life first,” said Mangezi. 

“A lot of Zimbabwean women working in South Africa without any papers are taking care of their children as well as their unemployed, abusive husbands,” said Mangezi.

Sarah Mazire (28), another undocumented immigrant from Zimbabwe, says that in order to take care of her family in Zimbabwe, she migrated to South Africa in March, which unfortunately was the beginning of the covid-19 outbreak in South Africa. 

Mazire, who is currently living with her sister, was about to start her first job as a domestic worker just as the government enforced the lockdown so she was never employed and never earned a salary in South Africa. 

“I didn’t even manage to get my first salary before lockdown, and I worry the most about my husband and my child in Zimbabwe, because I was unable to send them money for the last two months”, said Mazire. 

Titus tells Wits Vuvuzela that the foreign women in Namkawa have taken advantage of the cigarette ban, by selling single cigarettes on street corners.  

“Female immigrants have been selling cigarettes on street corners at inflated prices, which we suspect is in order to make up for the assistance that they are not getting from the government, since a lot of these women tend to be undocumented,” said Titus. 

Titus says that the burden that women in Namkawa carry can lead to extreme emotional distress and even substance dependency.

“The women here often face the issue of alcoholism due to emotional distress. Ever since the alcohol ban, they have been making alcohol by fermenting fruit, which has caused many of them to fall ill,” Titus said. 

FEATURED IMAGE: Vulnerable women in South Africa face increased difficulties in South Africa as the lockdown halts their ability to work and earn a living.  Photo: Thobekile Moyo.