OLIEVENHOUTBOS, South Africa -- Thousands of people stood in line for hours on Saturday in a South African township waiting for handouts of food.
The scene has repeated for days in one of the world’s most unequal countries as charities haul essentials to low-income neighborhoods suffering under coronavirus restrictions.
A five-week lockdown, one of the world's strictest, eased slightly on Friday, allowing more businesses to resume and giving more hungry people a chance to support themselves and their families.
Social distancing collapsed in parts of the line that wound past battered shopfronts, though some people turned and stretched out their arms, making sure to stay beyond fingertips’ reach.
“Please, when you move forward just keep the same distance,” a soldier called out.
Some weary people scrubbed their faces in frustration. Others pulled their jackets over the heads as protection from the sun.
“I’m waiting here, I’m sure it’s now 14 hours and some minutes. Fourteen hours and some minutes, since yesterday I was waiting here,” Melvyn Mangura, a 37-year-old painter, told The Associated Press.
The local Mahlasedi Foundation is one of many charities handing out packages of food that have contained maize meal, boxed milk, tinned fish and beans.
President Cyril Ramaphosa has emphasized that his government is trying to balance the need to curb the spread of the virus with pressure to minimize economic hardships. South Africa has the most virus cases in Africa with more than 5,900.
“Our people need to eat. They need to earn a living," the president said late last month while announcing the start of a gradual, phased recovery of economic activity.
Ramaphosa has announced a $26 billion socio-economic relief package as millions of informal workers have suffered. Unemployment is expected to soar above the 29% that existed before the virus arrived.