According to 2016 data, only 44.4 percent of people had access to water inside their dwelling, and only 60.6 percent to a flush toilet connected to the sewage system.

At least four million people - 15 percent of the population - live in densely packed, informal urban settlements with communal taps and toilets.

I spoke yesterday to a community leader in the Wetlands settlement in the township of Msiphumelele, near my home.

''We are trying hard to self-distance,'' Lubabalo Nompunga told me. ''but we need to eat. We need to wash, we need to go the toilet. All of this requires being outside.''

And, he added, as many of his neighbors have live or six even more to a tiny, unventilated corrugated shack, might it not actually be safer if people were to socially distance outdoors?

PROFESSOR Ramjee was among the first wave of scientists to study the impacts of AIDS on society's most vulnerable, and her research, particularly her work with prostitutes in the 1990s, has a lesson for us all.

She understood that the AIDS epidemic would hot the poor people disproportionately in South Africa, one of the most unequal countries on earth, it did. And so will the coronavirus.

South Africa is still in incubation period of the pandemic and is expected to reach the peak around early May.

The country's president, Cyril Ramaphosa, ordered a 21-day lockdown starting on March 26 is an effort to prevent the spread of the contagion.

We may leave our homes only if we are essential workers, if we need food or medication, or if we must collect our social welfare grants from the state.

In his televised addresses, the South African president has deeply impressed South Africans with his empathy and purposeful style.

The decade long kleptocratic rule of Mr. Ramaphosa's predecessor, Jacob Zuma, precipitated an economic crisis, hobbled the state's economy and eroded public trust.

In South Africa;s fractious society, this distrust infects the relationship between people and the law, at a time when those enforcing it have more power than at any time since the apartheid-era ''state of emergency'' in the late 1980s.

Videos of soldiers frog-matching and whipping citizens have been circulating on social media, and three people have been allegedly killed by law enforcement officials after altercations about disobeying the lockdown.

The attitude of some of Mr. Ramaphosa's lieutenants has not helped. Questioned at a briefing about policy-heavy-handedness, the hawkish police minister Bheke Cele promised, ''You haven't seen anything yet.''

And necessary though the lockdown regulations might be, they struggle to take into account the reality of life for so many South Africans.

There is another unnerving echo of the AIDS crisis right now.

As with safer-sex promotions public health messaging about social distancing is hard to absorb - and to act upon- when you are poor and disempowered. It is harder still when you don;t yet see the affects of illness all around you.

And by the time you do see them, it's too late.

The sadness of this publishing continues. The World Students Society thanks author Mark Gevisser. He is the author of ''Lost and Found in Johannesburg'' and the forthcoming ''Pink Line : Journeys Across The World's Queer Frontiers.''


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