Hunger is a greater fear than coronavirus in South Africa's townships

Video report by ITV News correspondent John Ray

The residents of Masiphumelele live in such close confines that you could step from one tin roof to another without setting foot in the dusty lanes that run between the rows of shacks.

So South Africa’s townships – here in the Cape, and across much of the country - have become fertile territory for coronavirus.

Although the increase in cases is beginning to fall, the total number of cases tops half a million – the fifth highest national total in the world.

But that’s not the biggest worry for the people who queue here every morning. There is a long patient line, not for Covid tests, but for food.

The township is home to thousands. Credit: ITV News

"There are many children here who go to bed hungry," says Chryslynne Goven, who clutches her own baby in her arms as she waits.

"They knock on doors at night, asking: ‘Have you got a slice of bread?’ It’s that bad."

‘"There’s no work, no work," says another mother. "All us standing here, we suffer."

Chryslynne Goven says children are struggling to get food. Credit: ITV News

These are people with little defence against the disease – or its consequences. And it’s the latter they fear most.

The government locked down hard and won early praise in delaying the virus. But the burial plots continue to fill at an alarming rate and the impact on most South Africans is economic.

An estimated three million South Africans have lost their jobs. According to one forecast, unemployment is projected to rise to up to a staggering 50 percent. Among them, the most vulnerable; cleaners, bar staff, car park guards.

Children queue for food. Credit: ITV News

"The pandemic didn’t cause this food crisis, but it revealed the fault-lines and exacerbated it," says Andrew Boraine, of the Western Cape’s Economic Development Partnership which works with the provincial government and local charities to fill a yawning hunger gap.

"In poor and vulnerable communities people tell us their first requirement is a meal. Their health requirements are second. They’re more likely to die of starvation than catching the virus."

Even the South Africa’s famed winelands are running dry. A ban on alcohol sales and on tourism has devastated this affluent corner of Africa.

"It’s a catastrophe," says Shalk Burger, as he walks slowly past barrels of wine he can no longer sell. There’s even talk across the region of having to dump 300 million litres down the drain.

"The whole wine tourism industry, restaurants, hospitality, guest houses. It’s all being decimated."

In hope more than expectation, they prepare the vines for a crop that may never be harvested.

A coffin is lowered into a grave. Credit: ITV News

Johannes Spannenberg is a farm supervisor whose wages pay the rent and feeds an extended family.

These are the most worrying times he’s known in some tough post apartheid years.

"Maybe this farm will close down. I have two kids and two grand kids that live with me. What are we going to do if I lose my job?"

Many hundreds of South Africa’s poorest are having to find an answer. In Ocean View, another poor community half a mile from Masiphumelele, social worker Juliana Rubian surveys the groups of bored, anxious youth on the streets and predicts a grim future.

"More burglaries, more break ins, more crime," she says.

"Children might go out and sell drugs. Become part of gangsterism. Because now they need to make something for their family."

The disease is devastating this country but for South Africans there is even more to fear.