AP PHOTOS: South Africa faces division again, from virus

South African National Defense Forces check people's temperature near the Pan Africa taxi rank in Johannesburg's Alexandra township, Wednesday May 20,...
A minibus taxi driver wearing a face musk looks out the window during his journey in Kwa-Thema east of Johannesburg, South Africa, March 17, 2020. (AP...
South African Defense Forces and police check a minibus driver who violated the lockdown in Johannesburg, South Africa, March 27, 2020. Police and arm...
Residents of the densely populated Hillbrow neighborhood stand and wave from their balconies during the coronavirus outbreak in Johannesburg during Ma...
South African National Defense Forces patrol the Men's Hostel in the densely populated Alexandra township east of Johannesburg, March 28, 2020, during...
Henry sits in a bin as he and other homeless people rest at the Caledonian stadium in Pretoria, South Africa, April 2, 2020, after being rounded up by...
Homeless people waiting to receive food baskets from private donors, get their hands sanitized April 13, 2020, in Johannesburg. Because of South Afric...
A government official looks on during a media conference for the handing over of the emergency medical equipment for COVID-19 by China, at OR Tambo Jo...
Family and friends observe social distancing during the funeral ceremony for Benedict Somi Vilakasi at the Nasrec Memorial Park outside Johannesburg, ...
A man wearing a face mask to protect against the spread of the coronavirus cycles home from work in Alberton, east of Johannesburg, South Africa, Apri...
Relatives grieve Benedict Somi Vilakasi at his burial ceremony at the Nasrec Memorial Park outside Johannesburg, April 16, 2020. Vilakasi, a Soweto co...
Fellowship Mukanhairi, the daughter of a blind Zimbabwean migrant, has her hair styled in the courtyard of their building in Johannesburg, South Afric...
Health workers collect a sample for coronavirus testing, outside a shack during the screening and testing campaign aimed to combat the spread of COVID...
Soldiers check the permits of informal traders while on patrol in Soweto, South Africa, April 23, 2020, as the country remains in lockdown for a fourt...
An informal shop owner wearing a face mask looks on as soldiers patrol on the streets of Soweto, South Africa, April 23, 2020, as the country remains ...
A young girl covers her face, in the Sjwetla informal settlement on the outskirt of the Alexandra township in Johannesburg, May 5, 2020, during the co...
A man living in his car reacts to police and army patrolling downtown Johannesburg, South Africa, March 27, 2020. Police and army started patrolling m...
A volunteer directs two men towards a medical tent where they will be tested for COVID-19 as well as HIV and Tuberculosis, in downtown Johannesburg, A...
Heath officials check the listings of people who are to be tested for COVID-19 as well as HIV and Tuberculosis, in downtown Johannesburg, April 30, 20...
A homeless woman talks to South African Defense Forces and police officers as they patrol the street in Johannesburg, South Africa, May 1, 2020, as th...
People line up to receive food handouts in the Olievenhoutbos township of Midrand, South Africa, May 2, 2020. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)
People practice safe distancing as they line up to receive food handouts in the Olievenhoutbos township of Midrand, South Africa, May 2, 2020. (AP Pho...
People line up to receive food handouts in the Olievenhoutbos township of Midrand, South Africa, May 2, 2020. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)
A man wears a plastic bag on his face as a precaution against the spread of the coronavirus, on the street in Katlehong, east of Johannesburg, South A...
A man wearing personnel protection equipment, disinfects a taxi during a procedure to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus at Tembisa township i...

South African National Defense Forces check people's temperature near the Pan Africa taxi rank in Johannesburg's Alexandra township, Wednesday May 20,...

A minibus taxi driver wearing a face musk looks out the window during his journey in Kwa-Thema east of Johannesburg, South Africa, March 17, 2020. (AP...

South African Defense Forces and police check a minibus driver who violated the lockdown in Johannesburg, South Africa, March 27, 2020. Police and arm...

Residents of the densely populated Hillbrow neighborhood stand and wave from their balconies during the coronavirus outbreak in Johannesburg during Ma...

South African National Defense Forces patrol the Men's Hostel in the densely populated Alexandra township east of Johannesburg, March 28, 2020, during...

Henry sits in a bin as he and other homeless people rest at the Caledonian stadium in Pretoria, South Africa, April 2, 2020, after being rounded up by...

Homeless people waiting to receive food baskets from private donors, get their hands sanitized April 13, 2020, in Johannesburg. Because of South Afric...

A government official looks on during a media conference for the handing over of the emergency medical equipment for COVID-19 by China, at OR Tambo Jo...

Family and friends observe social distancing during the funeral ceremony for Benedict Somi Vilakasi at the Nasrec Memorial Park outside Johannesburg, ...

A man wearing a face mask to protect against the spread of the coronavirus cycles home from work in Alberton, east of Johannesburg, South Africa, Apri...

Relatives grieve Benedict Somi Vilakasi at his burial ceremony at the Nasrec Memorial Park outside Johannesburg, April 16, 2020. Vilakasi, a Soweto co...

Fellowship Mukanhairi, the daughter of a blind Zimbabwean migrant, has her hair styled in the courtyard of their building in Johannesburg, South Afric...

Health workers collect a sample for coronavirus testing, outside a shack during the screening and testing campaign aimed to combat the spread of COVID...

Soldiers check the permits of informal traders while on patrol in Soweto, South Africa, April 23, 2020, as the country remains in lockdown for a fourt...

An informal shop owner wearing a face mask looks on as soldiers patrol on the streets of Soweto, South Africa, April 23, 2020, as the country remains ...

A young girl covers her face, in the Sjwetla informal settlement on the outskirt of the Alexandra township in Johannesburg, May 5, 2020, during the co...

A man living in his car reacts to police and army patrolling downtown Johannesburg, South Africa, March 27, 2020. Police and army started patrolling m...

A volunteer directs two men towards a medical tent where they will be tested for COVID-19 as well as HIV and Tuberculosis, in downtown Johannesburg, A...

Heath officials check the listings of people who are to be tested for COVID-19 as well as HIV and Tuberculosis, in downtown Johannesburg, April 30, 20...

A homeless woman talks to South African Defense Forces and police officers as they patrol the street in Johannesburg, South Africa, May 1, 2020, as th...

People line up to receive food handouts in the Olievenhoutbos township of Midrand, South Africa, May 2, 2020. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

People practice safe distancing as they line up to receive food handouts in the Olievenhoutbos township of Midrand, South Africa, May 2, 2020. (AP Pho...

People line up to receive food handouts in the Olievenhoutbos township of Midrand, South Africa, May 2, 2020. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

A man wears a plastic bag on his face as a precaution against the spread of the coronavirus, on the street in Katlehong, east of Johannesburg, South A...

A man wearing personnel protection equipment, disinfects a taxi during a procedure to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus at Tembisa township i...

JOHANNESBURG (AP) — South Africa’s coronavirus lockdown has brought a unique kind of discomfort to a country where memories of physical separation are yet to fade. Stand there. Step back. Don’t touch.

More than a quarter-century has passed since the end of the racist system of apartheid, or white minority rule. Many South Africans in this youthful country did not live it, but history, and its aftermath, are never far away.

Now it’s inequality, the sharpest in the world, that underlies the odd new daily existence. South Africa’s poor number in the tens of millions but, largely confined to crowded townships that are a legacy of the past, they are “the other” now.

In the jittery early days of lockdown, the homeless were scattered from the streets by police backed by soldiers — the military’s biggest domestic deployment since the end of apartheid in 1994. Their presence brought back ghosts.

Security forces, their guns clutched in hands covered by disposable gloves, now stop strangers and inspect their papers: business permits, IDs. Another echo from the past.

President Cyril Ramaphosa in late March urged the soldiers to be a “force of kindness,” saying citizens were terrified — of catching the virus, of losing often precarious jobs, of running out of money to feed their families.

All have come to pass.

South Africa now has the most virus cases in Africa, well over 19,000. The unemployment rate was already at 29% before the pandemic, and the Chamber of Commerce and Industry has warned it could climb to 50%.

But most visible is the hunger.

Authorities, aid groups and private citizens alike are handing out food. On one empty Johannesburg street, beggars and street children were delighted to see tinted car windows slide open and hands reach out with a little cash or a can of beans.

Elsewhere across the country people have lined up by the thousands, waiting hours on end, for a package containing basics like maize flour and sardines.

Social distancing everywhere is imperfect, from the rich suburbs where runners and dog-walkers burst outdoors after those activities were allowed again, to the townships where a growing number of worried people wait for monthly relief grants.

In this uncertainty, you do what you can. A plastic bag is turned into a face mask. A balcony becomes a world.

And yet the grief at a death from COVID-19 is so strong it overcomes the hesitation to touch as mourners comfort one another.

Lockdown has been too painful, many say, and for many reasons. Some people simply yearn for sales of alcohol and cigarettes, both still banned even as other restrictions ease.

Now winter is coming to South Africa, deep in the southern hemisphere. The nights are cold. The coughing of flu complicates the challenges of fighting the new virus — not to mention persistent tuberculosis, too.

Other parts of the world are stepping out of lockdown and hoping the worst is behind them. But South Africa, like the rest of Africa, is braced for what’s yet to come.

Some have turned to Albert Camus’s novel “The Plague” for a vision of fear. But its words also contains hope for a country facing division once again: “To state quite simply what we learn in time of pestilence: that there are more things to admire in men than to despise.”

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Follow AP coverage of the pandemic at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak.