Cleaning in the time of Corona

Thursday 19 March, 2020 – Day 4 of South Africa’s pretence at self-isolation during the pandemic known as Covid-19.

150 cases nationally, no deaths. All cases are either recent returnees from Europe or have had direct contact with them. They are known as the ‘travelling class’.  South Africans are not taking this seriously, not even those who consider themselves educated and who have unlimited access to news.  They are having parties, going to restaurants, it’s business as usual, except for the stockpiling of toilet paper.

Anyway, today was kitchen cleaning day in my household.

In this country we are extremely privileged to have cheap labour so most people have domestic help in one form or another. I have a lady, Cynthia, who comes to my house twice a month. Many people have much more help than that, twice or even 3 times a week, and the rich even have full-time staff that they say they consider ‘family’ but they have never shared a meal with them.  Many white South Africans do not know how to use their own washing machines or irons, nor have they ever cleaned a toilet. This is all about to change.

Cynthia was due to come here today but I told her to stay home until further notice. She suffers from chronic asthma and the last thing she needs is to spend hours in a type of public transport known as the taxi industry. I will, of course, pay her during this time because she also needs food and other stuff. Our public transport is very expensive and chaotic and mostly consists of small minivans wherein one should not really fit more than 15 people but which sometimes manage to hold 20 or more, double that if they are children.  This makes them petri-dishes for viruses. No decent person should force their employees to use them at the moment unless absolutely necessary.

The corona virus has not yet penetrated the poor, the working classes that never travel. When it does it will spiral out of control and the stockpiled toilet paper will be needed because we will begin to really shit ourselves.

Here are some stats on the taxi industry:

  • 14 million people use it daily.
  • Each vehicle transports an average of 3200 per month
  • The average daily time spent in a taxi by a passenger is 65 minutes
  • Average trips per day per person is 2,3.
  • Contrary to popular belief they are NOT the most responsible for road accidents.
  • For more and very interesting information, especially how they fight over routes, google ‘SA taxi industry’ or ‘taxi wars’.

So, as much as I hate housework, today I decided to spring clean my kitchen. This is a misnomer really, because what passes as a kitchen is just a corner of an open-plan area with a living room, dining room and even this desk from which I sort-of run a sort-of business.

I had a cleaning team, consisting of myself in a mostly supervisory role and the two males who share this house with me. They both hate manual labour but, knowing how I get short of breath at the slightest effort, they agreed to my request for their voluntary services. One is project-orientated and, when forced into labour, is very productive and efficient. The other has chronic adult ADHD and likes to complicate things in an effort to turn things upside down and make me run for the tranks.

We moved everything, we cleaned behind, we cleaned under, we tidied shelves and cupboards, we threw away the unloved Tupperware lids, we found things I’ve owned for years but never use, we shoved some back just in case, we buried dead roaches and did not find any forgotten stash of anti-corona wipes or soap. I cancelled lunch-making because it would be messy so we ate fruit and biscuits.

We managed to achieve this without too much irritation and arguing. Goodness knows how long this will last. I can already feel the tension of this crisis. The cancelled bookings, the concern over the looming month-end obligations. The fear of getting sick myself is actually the very least of my concerns, despite my respiratory disease. Let it come, I say. Just give me time to clean and de-clutter the rest of the house.

Tonight we eat leftovers and I will show gratitude for uncapped fibre internet by going to bed early.


A happy place for depressing times. This is the famous Boulders penguin colony near Simonstown.  I’m not sure when I’ll go there again.

About Francoise Armour

I run a small touring company (Tours du Cap) at the bottom of Africa, to show visitors the beauty and vibrant culture of the country I have lived in since my parents brought me here from France as a child. I enjoy taking photos and wish I had learnt to do it properly. I enjoy writing but don't do enough of it. I enjoy walking in the mountains that surround me and I marvel over the views and the flowers and the amazing rock formations. I have a small, cute, clever, black dog of indeterminable breed, named Vida, who reminds me regularly that walking and getting out is not only for when tourists want it.

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A note to all accidental visitors:

I am not a photographer and do not claim to have any particular skills whatsoever in that department. I have enormous respect for those who can see the potential in a scene and can create a great photo. Good photography is an art, in my opinion.

I am just a happy snapper, I have no special lenses or accessories, my camera is very simple and it's usually best to leave the setting on auto.

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