Looking back on the year that was

Organisations rallied to feed those who were left destitute by the impact of the global pandemic this year.

It’ been a tough year for many and with 2020 drawing to an end LILLIAN AMOS took a look back at the stories that made headlines in the Southern Mail.

The year got off to a grim start when the community of Pelican Park mourned the killing of Michaela Williams (’Justice system questioned’, Southern Mail, January 15). The 12-year-old disappeared from her home in Crane Street on January 7 and her body was later found at a vacant plot in Schaapkraal. Neighbour Steven Fortune, a convicted rapist, was arrested and charged for her rape and murder. He admitted to the crime and will be sentenced.

Also in January, the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (PRASA) reported millions of rands in damages because of train vandalism (’Train vandalism continues’ Southern Mail January 23).

Commuters were left to make alternative arrangements when several train sets were put out of commission, leading to heavy delays and cancellations. Vandalism continued during the lockdown, crippling the train system, but the service, although limited, reopened along the Southern line in June.

In February, backyard dwellers occupied the old Crestway High School building in Joe Marks Boulevard in Retreat as a plea to speed up housing development plans. Several pockets of vacant land in greater Retreat has been selected for possible housing by the Western Cape Department of Human Settlements.

Later in the month, four people, including a 6-year-old boy and his 80-year-old grandfather, died in a fire at their home in Parkwood. The family struggled to raise funds for the burials but were helped by the community.

March started off with good news when activists made submissions for Princess Vlei in Retreat to be named a heritage site. It was approved later in this year, giving long-term protection and investment to the vlei.

Later in March the education department closed schools to prevent the spread of Covid-19. At the time there were just over 400 cases reported in South Africa and president Cyril Ramaphosa declared a national state of emergency with level 5 lockdown restrictions to help prevent the spread of the virus and to prepare health facilities for the influx of patients.

The months following the national lockdown saw many people losing their jobs and many fell further into poverty. Because of the outcry, organisations and residents played their part in helping where they could by donating food and masks and starting or extending feeding schemes to help those who were hit the hardest.

Street people were moved to a temporary shelter in Strandfontein to help stop the spread of the virus.

In April most residents adhered to lockdown restriction but neighbourhood watches rallied to get permission from government to patrol as petty crime was still on the increase. The neighbourhood watched argued that they could assist Law Enforcement and police to help keep an eye on people who were contravening lockdown regulations. Later on lockdown restrictions were eased but by then it had had a huge impact on businesses.

In May lockdown restrictions were eased and schools were advised to start online classes and to send work to pupils. This was the start of an ongoing debate around the safety of opening schools.

The schools stayed closed until August. The opening of religious institutions also sparked debate. They were allowed to host no more than 50 people. Many religious leaders decided to keep their doors closed to help stop the spread of the virus.

Later in June the community was left shocked and saddened by the passing of Heidi Volkwijn, 44, manager of the Youth and Adult Services at League of the Friends of the Blind (LOFOB). She and her husband Barry, 46, both died of Covid-19 on the same day.

In July restrictions were lifted even more but gang violence in Parkwood, Hillview Lavender Hill and other areas spiked leaving several people injured and killed by gunmen. Police have since made several arrests and continue to patrol and take illegal guns and drugs off the streets.

Despite the increase in positive cases, which currently stands at nearly 900 000 and over 24 000 deaths, many told their stories about how they overcame the virus.

In September, Zeekoevlei was under threat from a large-scale sewage spill and had to be closed twice in two months.

According to a City of Cape Town press release, the only obvious infrastructure failure which could have contributed to reports of pollution in the vlei, was a vandalised low-flow stormwater to sewer diversion in the Big Lotus River, which feeds Zeekoevlei, a section of the False Bay Nature Reserve.

In the same month residents of flats in Grindal Avenue in Lavender Hill were angry at the City of Cape Town’s delay in responding to their pleas to fix damages caused by a storm.

Later in the month the community mourned the death of stalwart advocate Hishaam Mohammed who died of a heart attack.

In October, community worker Mark Nicholson died of complications following a stroke. Mr Nicholson had started a library and feeding scheme in Hillview and was loved by many who called him a local hero.

Heathfield High School principal Wesley Neumann battled the education department to keep his position at the school. Mr Neumann was accused of six charges of alleged misconduct when he fought for pupils and teachers to stay home during the height of Covid-19 infections. His hearings have been postponed to February next year.

In the month of November, Lavender Hill residents from Wicht Court pleaded for help from the City of Cape Town to shut down gang and drug houses after an alleged drug house was petrol bombed. No one has been arrested in the case.

Philisa Abafazi opened the doors to their new family centre in Steenberg, paving the way for much needed services to be rendered in the community and surrounding areas.

In December, talks of a second wave started to arise as Covid-19 numbers spiked yet again leading to the president Cyril Ramaphosa’s announcement that certain restrictions will again apply to help curb the spread of the virus. Residents are advised to still adhere to safety protocols such as washing hands, staying home during the festive season, wearing masks and social distancing.

At the time of going to print Natalie Watlington, spokesperson for the Western Cpae Department of Health said there had been a 76% increase in cases in the southern sub-district in the past week with 12 new deaths.

Covid-19 hospital admissions had also risen rapidly. Anyone showing symtoms are required to isolate for 10 days.

Residents are urged to:

– Wear a mask properly as this is of life-saving importance. You must always wear your masks when outside of your home. There can be no exceptions.

– Avoid crowded and confined spaces at all costs. This is where super-spreader events take place.

– Urgently reconsider hosting all non-essential gatherings of people this year, especially indoor gatherings with poor ventilation.

-Ensure there is always good ventilation whenever you’re in public. The virus droplets spread by air in confined spaces, and so fresher is better.

-Wash your hands regularly with soap and water or use sanitiser.

-If you feel sick, you should not leave your home unless it is to get healthcare treatment. You must first call the hotline on 080 928 4102 for guidance on the next steps.

–You should also not visit someone who is sick, and find other ways to provide support, like delivering a meal to a neighbour’s doorstep