It is harvest time at Lugangeni village in Mount Frere in the Eastern Cape, but everywhere you go villagers are wearing masks and are clearly shaken by news that over 200 learners from their local boarding school have tested positive for the coronavirus.
Fear has gripped the quiet and peaceful village and normal village life has ground to a halt.
At this time of the year, the village is abuzz with villagers harvesting yellow maize in gardens and communal fields, while unemployed men get seasonal jobs harvesting for commercial maize farming projects in the area.
When we visited the village on Friday, the village chief had called on all villagers to converge at the junior school where the health department conducted public screening and testing of the community.
Boys from Makaula Senior Secondary School – where 204 learners, hostel assistants and matrons have tested positive for the coronavirus – apparently escaped from the boarding school last week and went on a drinking spree at the local tavern.
Eastern Cape MEC for Education Fundile Gade said his main concern was a potential outbreak of Covid-19 in the village.
He said the missing learners were already responsible for another outbreak of Covid-19 in another village.
In addition to the tavern drinking spree, one boy also slipped away to a nearby soccer tournament.
“There is now a school that has infections on the basis of one boy who escaped and went to a tournament in that village and consequently infected almost all the boys he was playing with in that village.
“So there is going to be a massive programme to ensure that we bring them [the missing learners] back and a programme of tracing those villagers because that’s where my greatest worry is now,” said Gade.