We analyse the early effects of the COVID-19 crisis and lockdown in South Africa on women’s and men’s work in the paid and unpaid (care) economies. Because women and men typically have different roles in both spheres, it is likely that they would experience the negative effects of the crisis unevenly, potentially exacerbating existing inequalities. Based on a large national survey conducted during South Africa’s lockdown period, we find that women have been affected disproportionately by the crisis. While women comprised less than half of the employed in February, they experienced two-thirds of the net job losses between February and April, with the most vulnerable groups affected more. Among those who remained in employment, there was a larger fall in working hours among women than men. Compounding these disproportionate effects in the labour market, women also took on more of the additional childcare that resulted following school closures. The crisis has therefore increased gender inequality in South Africa, reversing some of the hard-won gains of the previous 25 years.