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A friendly face is always welcome when one needs a quick coffee fix before an 08:00 class. That is what barista Byron Bimha (aged 33) has been since 2015 to many Stellenbosch students who frequent Pulp Cinema’s coffee shop. 

This beloved spot, along with the rest of the country, had to close its doors for the duration of lockdown level 5 last year to fight the spread of COVID-19. Although it was a challenging time, Byron states that his employer ensured Pulp’s employees were taken care of in any small way possible. He remarks that the possibility of closing down was frightening and that it would not have been as a result of the spread of the virus itself, but rather of the financial strain Pulp had to endure by having to continue paying rent and salaries without a stable income.

Byron returned to work in July last year when level 4 was announced, but by that stage, classes had been moved online, and the flow of feet through the Neelsie consisted only of a few lecturers passing through. However, their movement through the centre did not guarantee that they would stop for a quality cup of coffee that Byron and his co-workers serve with a smile, now hidden behind a mask.

To help support his family during the time in which students were still not on campus, he sought out jobs such as painting, gardening and food delivery (a business that boomed during eased lockdown restrictions). Although he saw people close to him pass away from the virus, he  remained hopeful when he fought against both the virus and the personal stress of the year by finding strength in his Christianity.

Even though most of the students returned to campus this year, and the coffee shop saw an increase in numbers once younger people were allowed to be vaccinated and could go out again, Byron says the coffee shop is still quiet in comparison to the general buzz associated with the Neelsie, and the amount of clients they serve each day is only half of what it was pre-COVID-19. 

Byron and his family believed that, if they follow all the protocols, they will be able to return to some adjusted version of our new reality. When times were tough and he was diagnosed with COVID-19, he kept hope and looked to the rest of the world, knowing that South Africa was not facing the pandemic alone.

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