A look back on a tough year

Businesses in the CBD were hit hard by the national lockdown.

The bustling central business district was left looking like a ghost town when the national coronavirus lockdown was enforced in March.

The lockdown has had a devastating impact on businesses in the CBD and V&A Waterfront.

Nobody could have predicted the months of empty restaurants, vacant hotel rooms, closed shops and deserted offices when the year kicked off with the Tweede Nuwe Jaar minstrel parade on January 2.

At the Waterfront, the Jazzathon, the annual free jazz concert, was one of the last big events to be held in the city centre for 2020.

Looking back on the year, other stories covered in the CapeTowner in January were the deaths of homeless activist and columnist Danny Oosthuizen and police officer Constable Thabo Sigcu.

Danny Oosthuizen, ambassador for The Dignity Project, social activist and HIV/TB counsellor, lost his battle to cancer early this year.

Danny, who lived on the streets of the CBD, became an ambassador in the community with his column in The Cape Argus, called the Dignity Project. He lost his battle to cancer just after New Year’s Eve.

Meanwhile, Constable Sigcu’s murder made headlines when he was shot and killed in Heerengracht Street, allegedly by a Law Enforcement officer in a case of mistaken identity.

Constable Thabo Sigcu was shot and killed in an alleged case of mistaken identity.

Constable Sigcu had been trying to apprehend a robbery suspect when two Law Enforcement officers intervened and shots were dispersed. The suspected robber also sustained a gunshot wound.

It was later reported that the Law Enforcement officer had handed himself over to the police, was charged with murder and received R5 000 bail.

Hundreds of refugees and asylum seekers crammed into the Central Methodist Church and Greenmarket Square.

CapeTowner closely followed the story of more than 500 refugees who sought shelter at the Central Methodist Church in Greenmarket Square after they were evicted from nearby Waldorf Arcade. The refugees said they feared for their lives and they wanted to leave South Africa to live in safer conditions.

Their protest started in October 2019 and was still ongoing when the lockdown started in March, when they were forced to seek shelter as part of the regulations.

Before that the situation had became tense between businesses in the area and the refugees when they started using the roads to urinate and defecate, put up tents outside the church, make food on open fires, and leave rubbish behind.

A High Court order granted on February 17 gave the City of Cape Town permission to evict the refugees from the sidewalks around the church. They then sought shelter in St Mary’s Church opposite Parliament.

This led to clashes with authorities and nine refugees were arrested following a charge of trespassing from the church.

Refugees in Albertus Street.

They then camped out in Albertus Street, where they stayed until the City of Cape Town issued them with fines for by-law transgressions.

In April, they packed their belongings as they heard they would be moved to the Wingfield Military Base in Goodwood following hard lockdown regulations.

Many ended up living in tent accommodation at Paint City in Bellville.

In other news that made our headlines, the Waterfront announced the development of The Ridge, the first commercial building to use eco-brick technology.

However, the biggest story this year remains the pandemic and lockdown.

On March 19, events, shows and gigs around the city were cancelled and businesses closed. Two days later, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced that the country would go into hard lockdown for 21 days.

There was not a single car in the parking lots of the Waterfront, and the harbour was filled with catamarans that could not go out to sea.

Essential workers such as those working in retail, public services and the media, among others, had to move around with a permit and protective gear such as masks and gloves, while the homeless people were moved to various temporary sites across the city.

People feeding the vulnerable had to come up with new ways to run feeding schemes and collect donations while adhering to Covid-19 regulations.

The performing arts as well as the hospitality industry came to a halt, and the industries suffered until they were able to reopen on lockdown level 3, upon relaxing of some of the restrictions.

Muslims celebrated Ramadaan without gatherings, and Christians celebrated Easter the same way in April.

Lockdown also saw a drop in crime in the CBD, as well as a lot less litter and pollution in the city centre and the Waterfront.

In June, businesses started opening their doors under strict regulations, but struggled to stay afloat as they adapted to the “new normal”.

The Cape Town International Convention Centre (CTICC) was turned into a temporary Covid-19 hospital.

The Cape Town International Convention Centre was turned into a temporary hospital for patients with Covid-19.

Called the Hospital of Hope, the space had 862 beds, and was fully equipped with ventilators, medication and staff.

As local borders started opening again, the Waterfront received its World Travel and Tourism Safe Travels stamp, given to a destination once all the Covid-19 health and safety protocols were implemented.

However, hotels and restaurants continued suffering due to international travel restrictions and curfews, and those in the industry clashed with law enforcement during what was supposed to be a peaceful protest. They held up posters with messages such as #serveusplease and #jobsmatter.

Amid businesses slowly opening up, the Waterfront opened its new food market, called Makers Landing, which also houses a kitchen incubator programme, giving entrepreneurs access to a commercial kitchen and tools to build a business in the food industry.

In October, as the country went to level 1, CBD ward councillor Dave Bryant resigned, taking up a post in the national assembly. This month, Ian McMahon was elected as the new councillor for the city centre as well as the rest of ward 115.

When restrictions were relaxed, stakeholders in the city centre put measures in place to bounce back.

While all major events, such as the Festive Lights Switch On, New Year’s Eve and Tweede Newe Jaar have been cancelled, the City has been hosting smaller events as part of the recovery plan.

The City Central Improvement District started a campaign called Come Back to Town, aimed at enticing people back to the city.

As many businesses and institutions tried to reinvent themselves, Cape Town celebrated the end of a tough year by being named Africa’s leading events and festival destination at the 2020 World Travel Awards.