Monday in Grahamstown

A week has passed since Pres Ramaphosa’s Covid-19 battle plan announcement and it seems likely that this evening a national lockdown will be announced. Covid-19 cases in SA now shot up to 402. No cases yet in Grahamstown but inevitably it is getting closer. The major concern is less affluent communities who seem unaware of the pending crisis. Refer photos taken today. 1 April (or perhaps earlier) is Social Grant payment day. Critical role for municipal, health, SASSA and officials from the major banks to ensure those ATM queues are Covid-19-Proof. Perhaps it’s a job for the military.

With deep respect to the health pandemic and the necessary measures implemented, this post focuses on the economic impact of the pandemic and the devastating impact it could have here in Grahamstown. The perspective is Grahamstown but this little city is a microcosm of South Africa (and beyond) so these thoughts are broadly applicable.

The backbone of Grahamstown’s economy is education and edu-tourism related to Rhodes University and the private schools. Social grants (the upside and downside) plays its part too. Students and scholars have been sent home. Dispersed like seeds across the world. Some returned as far as Kenya, Hong Kong and Austria. The local ice-cream parlour is missing them. On a broader scale, sports fixtures and festivals have been cancelled. The big one, the National Arts Festival in June, cancelled. Income projections for B&B’s, restaurants etc destroyed and ZERO certainty when a semblance of normality will return. The wildlife industry has similarly slashed their income projections. Trips to Grahamstown to stock up for the needs of guests no longer necessary. The ripple effect on the Grahamstown economy could be catastrophic.

It’s difficult to offer advice and hope in these times of unprecedented uncertainty. I sat (almost alone) at a local pub last Friday afternoon and imagined that a similar atmosphere must have quietly invaded such places at the start of WWII.

There was no “Monday in Makhanda” last week. Frankly, with the above in mind, I was in a state of shock and near-panic unable to order my thoughts and write anything constructive. The Grahamstown Project (a fledgling training / tourism business), like most businesses in Gtown, is in for severely challenging times. I spent last Monday / Tuesday in deep introspection. I lay awake in the dark hours with the sounds of restless, agitated dogs barking across the valley. On the positive side it allowed me the opportunity to re-examine priorities and relationships. Bunkering down playing back-gammon, scrabble etc is marvellous. I spoke with many people. People on the streets of Grahamstown and in the tall buildings of Johannesburg. How do I Covid-19-Proof my business? What is the worst-case scenario? How do I care for those dependent on me and whose loyalty etc I am dependent upon? My view. Support the vulnerable, big business can look after themselves. We live in a completely new world and the rules are different.

Slowly (if 2 days is slow in the context of an upside-down world) fragments of the necessary survival plan took shape and the Covid-19 Battle Plan for TGP is now being implemented. No one can tell when this gargantuan storm will pass but it will. It’s going to be tough but I’m up for the challenge! I’d like to repeat that we are all in the same boat. Perhaps little two-person kayaks spread across a ferocious ocean is a better analogy. One day we will be rid of this curse and the students, scholars and festivals will return. We need to be ready. Paddle hard friends and live with hope.

Best wishes and stay safe.



Before moving back to Grahamstown in Oct 2017, Graeme was a bank executive based in the big smoke and craziness of Joburg. He has 20 years’ experience in the Payments Industry. He is a Chartered Accountant, has a Masters in Management by Research (MMR) from Wits Business School, and attended an Advanced Management Programme (AMP) offered by INSEAD (The Business School for the World!) in France.  

Graeme is the founder of The Grahamstown Project. It’s simple. He says, “Grahamstown is a microcosm of South Africa. If we can’t get this place to function properly then the whole country is stuffed. Many of the troubles we experience as a country today have their roots here in Grahamstown. it is here where black and white people first engaged in conflict on the African continent. It is here where 9 wars of dispossession over 100 years took place and virtually destroyed the amaXhosa nation. But we are where we are. I don’t have a British passport and the boat-trip back to where my ancestors came from is exorbitantly expensive. Furthermore, this is my home. I am a son of Africa. We must work together to redress the injustices of the past and move as one into a brighter future.”

Graeme is an avid historian, writer, vlogger and public speaker. Like and follow the Facebook page. Join him on a tour. Contact him. He would love that.