Members of the public who use the Company’s Garden daily were shocked to see the gates close on Friday March 20, followed by a sign that the public space would be closed until further notice due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The closure came ahead of the national lockdown announced by President Cyril Ramaphosa on Monday March 23. The 21-day lockdown will start at midnight today, Thursday March 26, and continue until midnight on Thursday April 16.
The City welcomed the lockdown and urged people to remain calm.
Mayor Dan Plato said the City would be meeting with the National Government, Provincial Government, Disaster Risk Management teams and all relevant stakeholders to ensure that they were ready to implement whatever was required to limit the spread of Covid-19.
“I want to call on our residents to please remain calm as the president has made it clear that food stores and medical services will remain open during the lockdown. There is much work to be done in the coming days but the agricultural and retail sectors have already assured the public that there is sufficient food supply. When going to buy food, please do not take the whole family with you, rather go as an individual for the family and take the necessary precautions as far as possible,” he said.
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The mayor added: “Law enforcement and emergency services staff will continue working and ensuring the safety of our communities.”
The City said it had taken into account the high volumes of visitors to places such as the Company’s Garden when deciding to close it to reduce the spread of Covid-19.
“We know that this will prove inconvenient for some of our residents. But in the interest of containing this highly contagious virus and for the protection of all our residents, we trust our residents will understand the need for these measures.”
The chairperson of the Friends of the Company’s Garden, Dylan Tommy, said they understood that the City was taking every precaution against the spread of Covid-19 and for this reason had to temporarily shut the gardens.
“The practice of social distancing works well when everyone is informed about it, and adheres to it. Public spaces are designed with a particular purpose in mind, to be spaces to relax and allow the community to unwind. This value is highlighted during this time when people are remaining isolated.
“In time, the need for people to get out of their city apartments will increase and the Friends sees the gardens to be used as a space where people can recharge in nature, while still maintaining all due precautions during the Covid-19 pandemic. The Friends remains on hand to assist the City and help ensure the gardens can provide this vital community service.”
He said the group, in partnership with the City, had started to host pupils from Gardens Commercial High School, and was in discussions with other schools to allow interested pupils to help take care of the VOC Vegetable Garden. “This has obviously come to a stop during this time, but will re-start after the crises has passed.”
However, Mr Tommy said they were grateful that membership had increased, and would use the time of closure to plan for the future and look forward to the reopening of the gardens and meeting, and making, new Friends.
He said they were concerned about the impact the shutdown will have on businesses. Meanwhile, traders in the Company’s Garden said since Covid-19 was declared a national disaster, the space had become a ghost town.
With the closure of the garden they were expecting fewer feet to pass through. Etienne Kies, who sells beaded jewellery near the gate, said business was so slow, they hadn’t made enough money to buy a meal for a day and a half.
“I don’t know what is going to happen. This is our bread and butter, and now they close the gates. We are survivors, but to be honest, I have no clue what we will do.”
Vanessa Mitchell, who does face-painting in the garden, said because her job required that she have human contact with clients, people seemed to keep their distance. “This is the only living we are making, and it’s not what it used to be.”
Mark Shelton, also known as Mingo the Clown, will be packing up after 25 years of creating balloons. “It’s all dried up here. People are reluctant to buy balloons even though I’ve opted to use a pump to blow up balloons, and gloves, but it’s impossible to trade.”
An angry man who frequents the garden daily to work and write, said his right to freedom and movement had been violated and threatened to lay a complaint with the South African Human Rights Commission.
Mayoral committee member for health services, Dr Zahid Badroodien, said findings from cities worldwide showed an increase of visitors to parks and public open spaces when social distancing and quarantine require private business to close. “The regulations clearly stipulate that social distancing should be encouraged and the Company’s Garden is well known to attract locals and tourists in large volumes daily.”
By the time this edition went to print, there were 554 reported cases of Covid-19 in South Africa.
Numerous resources have been made available to the public regarding Covid-19. These include:
The NICD Hotline on 0800 029 999 operates seven days a week, 24 hours a day
The Western Cape Provincial Government Hotline on 021 928 4102
www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019 · https://www.westerncape.gov.za/dept/health · www.nicd.ac.za ·
WhatsApp: 0600 123 456