I used to support my family, but now I can't even afford to buy bread

I’m an informal market trader in South Africa and the breadwinner in our family of four. But now rely on handouts to feed my family. #HumansofCOVID19

Rendani Sirwali
19 May 2020, 7.51am

I am Rendani Sirwali, 46, a trader from Khubvi village, in Limpopo province in South Africa. For over a decade now, I have been running an informal market in Thohoyandou shopping complex, selling fruits, vegetables, sweets and cigarettes.

I am married with two children, aged fourteen and twenty. The eldest is in his final year at the University of Venda. Running an informal market has been my only source of income for over twenty years, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has forced us into a countrywide lockdown, I have not been able to work or make any money.

Though I support the precautionary measures put in place by our government to help combat the spread of COVID-19, my family is suffering both financially and psychologically. We are even struggling to afford decent food.

Through my informal market, I am the breadwinner in our family of four. My husband is not working and both children depend on me financially. A few days before the president's announcement in March about the countrywide lockdown, I bought new stock. It was meant to last for the entire month of April, but I was unable to sell anything.

Help us uncover the truth about Covid-19

The Covid-19 public inquiry is a historic chance to find out what really happened.

Most of the items were fruit and vegetables, so they ended up being rotten, which meant I lost all my money. Throwing away all that rotten stuff was like throwing away my hard-earned money. I was left with nothing to carry us through the coming months.

We have since been allowed, as informal traders, to go back to selling in Thohoyandou’s streets, but only fruit and vegetables. I haven’t been able to do so because I don’t have any money left to purchase anything to sell at the moment.

All my fruit and vegetables went rotten, so I lost all my money

I heard that we’re supposed to have hand sanitiser with us at the market, so that we can practice proper hygiene to protect ourselves and customers from being infected with COVID-19. We were told weeks ago that we’d be getting free face masks and hand sanitiser from the local municipality, but we’re still waiting.

As I can barely afford the few vegetables and fruit that I sell, such as tomatoes, onions, bananas, apples and oranges, how am I going to afford hand sanitiser to sanitise everyone who will be visiting my market?

From 1,000 rand a week to nothing

On good days, if I was lucky, I was able to make more than 1,000 rand (about USD54) a week in profit. This was enough to give my family a decent life, as we were able to purchase most of the things we needed. These days, we even go without eating any meal for a day or two and there’s not much we can do. We rely on close family members for handouts while we wait for the government food parcels.

I have been told there is a government relief fund, but I am not sure if it includes us as informal traders. I have applied for the R350 grant, which our government is giving to all those who are currently unemployed. It is not much, but it is better than nothing.

Every night before I sleep, I pray that the pandemic goes away as it has disrupted our lives in a negative way. I feel pained every morning, when I have to tell my kids that I do not have money to buy a single loaf of bread. Something that we used to eat daily has suddenly become a luxury that we cannot afford.

It is a tough time for us as informal traders. It is something we cannot blame anyone for. The worst part is that there is nothing we can do to remedy the situation. We just have to pray for the best, that one day all this will end and we’ll be able to lead our normal lives again.

From 27 March for five weeks, South Africans were under a hard lockdown (Llevel five) and no one was allowed to leave their homes except to shop for food or medicine. All educational facilities and businesses were closed, except for grocery stores and pharmacies. No alcohol or cigarettes were allowed to be sold. Since 1 May, the country has been under a “level four” lockdown which permits people three hours of exercise and allows more businesses to operate - but still no sales of cigarettes of alcohol.

This story is part of our Humans of COVID-19 project: lifting up voices from across the world that are not being heard during this crisis.

We’ve got a newsletter for everyone

Whatever you’re interested in, there’s a free openDemocracy newsletter for you.

Get 50.50 emails Gender and social justice, in your inbox. Sign up to receive openDemocracy 50.50's monthly email newsletter.


We encourage anyone to comment, please consult the oD commenting guidelines if you have any questions.
Audio available Bookmark Check Language Close Comments Download Facebook Link Email Newsletter Newsletter Play Print Share Twitter Youtube Search Instagram WhatsApp yourData