While the South African economy staggers under the weight of the country’s prolonged Covid-19 lockdown, said to be one of the strictest in the world, ordinary people are feeling the pinch of income loss, with no prospect of a return to “normality” on the horizon for the foreseeable future.

For the self-employed – who in many instances fall between the cracks, not qualifying for UIF or other financial relief schemes offered to small businesses – the financial blow can be particularly hard. 

Growing desperation

Edward Ncube, a personal trainer at a gym north of Johannesburg, says the prospect of surviving another month without income is likely to push him to the brink of poverty, where he will join millions of other desperate South Africans already out of jobs.

His steady income of nearly R40 000 per month has been abruptly halted by the implementation of the national Covid-19 lockdown, as gyms shut down late in March when regulations kicked in. 

“At at the beginning I thought I could survive for one month without income and after that, things will return to normal, but I was wrong,” he said.

Ncube, 31, is part of a growing number of people frustrated by the inability to earn a living as the country remains locked under Level 4 of Covid-19 lockdown, as the death toll keeps rising, diminishing hope of an immediate suspension of the shutdown.

“My situation is growing more desperate by the day. I am self-employed and my income solely depends on the reopening of the gyms. If that does not happen anytime soon I might find myself on the streets,” he said.

Ncube’s uncertain future is shared by many others, including performing artists, whose line of work goes against guidelines aimed at limiting the spread of Covid-19, such as physical distancing and mass gatherings at concerts, clubs and cinemas. Festivals around the country have been cancelled or postponed, while the annual National Arts Festival will for the first time take place online in a bid to support artists. 

Business and Arts South Africa, meanwhile, has launched a funding campaign to assist artists affected by the pandemic. 

Freelancers and commission earners across industries have similarly been struggling, Fin24 previously reported. 

Rising uncertainty

Government has been caught in the balancing act of preserving lives and saving the fragile economy as it extended the lockdown, which was initially set to expire on April 16. Nearly two months after it started, the shutdown has not been entirely lifted, with few industries allowed to operate fully.

As the economy continues to take strain, many who have have managed to keep their jobs have had their salaries slashed, or received no income while sitting at home during lockdown. The Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) is currently inundated with Covid-19 related compensation claims, while companies have been urged to pay salaries of employees during the lockdown, wherever possible.

Another intervention extended by the government in an attempt to cushion the poor from the economic effect of the lockdown is a special R350 grant, for which 3 million people applied in a matter of days.

Ncube fears that his chances of finding another job are slim in the current economic climate.

“My savings can’t carry me for one more month. What lies ahead for me is quite scary. Right now I feel incapacitated and the level of desperation is rising every day,” he said.

“I appreciate the government’s gesture, but there is very little you can do with R350, especially if you are used to having an income. Right now I feel robbed of my ability to earn an income, and there is nothing I can do about it.”

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