Police Minister, Bheki Cele, arrived an hour and twenty minutes late for his appointment with the people of Tzaneen. It is said that he was originally meant to fly into town and would be collected from the Letaba airfield, but this changed last minute and he was driven by protective convoy to the Tzaneen SAPS Cluster Command Centre in Peace Street.
Upon arrival he was ushered into the command centre for a briefing and members of the media with bated breath outside in the parking lot for him to address us. He did not however speak to us at the command centre but was ushered away to the Crossings Centre in downtown Tzaneen.
At the Crossings Centre, he first entered the Shoprite store where he spoke to the management and inquired about their safety procedures regarding the amount of people in the store, the social distancing and the disinfecting of the trolleys and baskets. Shockingly however, the Minister was dancing with the staff and engaging in the now famous “elbow greeting” with passers-by as he and the massive entourage of personal protection made their way towards the taxi rank on the opposite side of the building.
Once outside in the parking he randomly pointed at bystanders waiting to enter the store and asked them very jestingly, “where is your line” as he pointed to the social distancing markers placed on the pavement by the store management. Not moments after he exited the shopping centre, did a huge crowd form around him. Soon there were hundreds of civilians which included shoppers, taxi operators and general bystanders surrounding the minister with their phones out recording his visit. Cele seemed to relish every moment of the attention.
At the taxi rank he grabbed a microphone and addressed the bystanders. Initially he politely requested that veryone stop bunching and step back, but this soon faded as the crowd grew larger and the adoration flooded in. He was visibly in his element and not at all concerned about the fact that his mask was slipping off his face, or that the hundreds of people in the crowd were standing atop one another in order to catch a glimpse of the Fedora-ranger in action.
“It looks like management inside the shop here at Checkers (never mind that he was not at Checkers, but had just exited Shoprite) the people understand this theory of 50 people inside the store at any one time. We are achieving this thing of social distancing,” he said. “Things will now start stabilizing. This week has been a very special week with everyone collecting their grants and we hope that next week and going forward it will be much better.”
When asked about the water crisis in the villages and deep rural areas where people still had to move between the areas in order to fetch their daily supply of water, Cele said that water is a challenge everywhere. “If you care to follow the news you would have seen that extraordinary measures have been implemented to assist people with water. The extra tanks and water tankers will improve the situation, because you need to wash your hands, but if water is not there it is not going to help.”
It appears by all accounts that government were caught with their pants down. On the issue of supplying protective gear such as face masks to the taxi operators who are expected to hand these masks out to their passengers, Cele said that there is currently a supply problem. “The efforts by government who have committed to bring the masks and sanitizers to the taxi ranks have been met. They have told me that they have sanitiser but they are going to have to move fast in order to get the protective gear to hand out to the taxi drivers. The problem is that everybody is chasing and buying the masks and we hope that soon we will find a solution this shortage as well.”
Shockingly, when Cele was asked how government intends to control the masses of people who still flood into the centres and do not seem to take the pandemic or the lock down seriously, he answered by quoting Adolf Hitler.
“Maybe if I can quote a man I don’t want to quote, Hitler, who said that if you keep telling people the very same message every day, they will eventually come to understand it. It is up to government and the leadership to keep reminding people every day of how serious this pandemic is. We will have to make sure that they understand at the end of the day.”