Photo by Hennie Stander on Unsplash

Note: Due to security concerns, this series keeps names anonymous throughout.

If you watched the news in 2021, you’ll know that life in South Africa came with many ups and downs.

Granted, you could say the same for much of the world, especially regarding the effects of COVID-19. But in 2021, South Africans certainly saw their fair share of chaos and unrest.

Undoubtedly, day-to-day life in South Africa was very different for its citizens. The COVID-19 pandemic, rioting, vandalism, unemployment, violence, fires, and more took their toll. And, as a result, many South Africans are uncertain about the future and what lies ahead for them.

Some of the events experienced in 2021 brought the people of South Africa together. In these instances, they stood as one against and conquered adversity. However, some challenges led to fear and division amongst the country’s citizens.

This series will take a closer look at some of the critical events that affected life in South Africa in 2021. And we’ll discuss the impact they had on South Africans who navigated the turmoil and are working towards stability. This is part 1 of 5 which we will be releasing. We hope that you will join us as we travel through this reflection!

Part 1:  COVID-19’s Progression in South Africa

In 2020, South Africa experienced a severe, military-enforced 5-week total lockdown toward the start of the pandemic. Only core, essential services could operate during this time. IDs were even being checked at grocery stores because you could only shop at the nearest store to your listed home. And this placed tremendous strain on many businesses.

“Funerals, which are culturally so very important, were so restrictedin numbers, in length, no all-night vigils, no out-of-town guests—it was so difficult to grieve. At one service, the police showed up to count us.”

ZEMA missionary

The repercussions of this initial lockdown and subsequent gradual easing of restrictions affected life in South Africa in 2021. Many local small businesses were forced to close due to the impact the virus had on their businesses.

In April, the COVID-19 third wave began for South Africans when the increase in Beta variant cases began in certain provinces. The more aggressive Delta variant followed, spreading rapidly throughout the country.

A  great number of South Africans still find themselves unemployed because of the pandemic. This is over and above the 32% of South Africans already unemployed before COVID-19. South Africa’s unemployment rate is now the highest in the world, rising to 44.4% in the second quarter of 2021.

“I think we made a mistake. I think life is going to get harder.”– Overheard

The government took a different approach when the Delta variant reared its ugly head in mid-2021 to preserve the already drowning economy.

The subsequent third wave did not result in the harsh restrictions imposed in 2020. And, for those who were employed, most people continued to go to work as usual. While most schools closed in response to the third wave, most of these reopened in July 2021.

The South African workforce likely found it difficult to balance the fear of the Coronavirus and the fear of losing their jobs. While some are able to work from home, this is not an option for most. And a variety of factors increased the severity of the pandemic in South Africa. South Africans carry a significant burden of tuberculosis (TB), HIV, and HIV/TB co-infection, since millions of the population are on immunosuppressant drugs, and others who are HIV positive are not receiving treatment for HIV.

Simple strategies such as regular hand washing and private quarantining of the sick are a privilege that many cannot afford in South Africa. Approximately 13% of all households are located in informal settlements that are crudely structured, cramped, and at times lack access to running water. Self-isolation and quarantine are practically impossible in situations where several people share a bedroom. A significant portion of the population relies on cramped and overcrowded public transport, with 69% using public taxis, 20.2% using buses, and 9.9% using trains.

Many lives, young and old, were lost during this third wave. In fact, South Africa is largely regarded as the hardest-hit country on the continent and for much of the pandemic accounted for half of all reported infections in Africa.

Thankfully, the COVID third wave spike subsided toward the end of September 2021. This has resulted in an improvement of life in South Africa for a time.

ZEMA During COVID-19

ZEMA’s ministries also met many challenges. Multiple of our ministries are necessarily in-person and, unlike your average congregation in the USA, not filled with people who have available, and prepaid, access to a stable home wifi connection. Ministries like ZEBS, ZEFA, Sunday School Teacher Training, campus ministry, and camping couldn’t continue under lockdown conditions. Some of these ministries struggled to start back up again afterward, and some still struggle to this very day.

But that doesn’t mean God wasn’t and isn’t moving. ZEMA’s radio program, Trumpet of Zion, continued, reaching what was perhaps its most ‘captive’ audience yet, and expanded its online presence. Online efforts, such as WhatsApp lessons and encouragements, began and grew over the many months apart.

Restarting ministries has been both a challenge and a joy. We have come to know the old adage well that “when God closes a door, He opens a window.” Many ZEBS programs meet in schools. However, under government control, many schools have not reopened as quickly as private businesses. So, many ZEBS have been forced to find new places to meet. We have begun meeting at many local churches and have been blessed by a deeper relationship with some local Zion pastors. It’s not quite a door, but it is a window!

And God was good to His missionaries. For instance, our field director, Greg Seghers, and his wife, Carlene, saw God’s provision firsthand right at the beginning of the pandemic in 2020. Carlene left South Africa for home assignment as planned in March, and Greg was supposed to follow her just a few days later. Well, Carlene arrived two days after the first reported case of COVID-19 in South Africa. And Greg had his flight cancelled! Now facing down the possibility of spending the entire lockdown (which no one knew at the time how long that would be) without his wife or family, Greg prayed and asked the whole of ZEMA to pray with him.

God answered that prayer, and Emirates rescheduled his trip:  On the last flight out of Durban!


Please pray for South Africa. Despite overcoming the omicron surge, the effects of COVID and its mitigation efforts still linger heavily over South Africa. We here at ZEMA need prayer more than ever for the country that many of us call home and the ministries we serve here!