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Jackson Mthembu remembered Covid-19 victims: 'We welcomed 2021 with hope of better things to come'

22 January 2021 - 11:00 By cebelihle bhengu
Tributes have poured in for minister in the presidency Jackson Mthembu, who died on Thursday morning. File photo.
Tributes have poured in for minister in the presidency Jackson Mthembu, who died on Thursday morning. File photo.
Image: Freddy Mavunda/Business Day

The late minister in the presidency Jackson Mthembu and his family lit candles to mourn thousands of South Africans who had died from Covid-19 related complications in 2020, just weeks before he himself would succumb to the virus.

The minister heeded the call of president Cyril Ramaphosa, who urged South Africans during his address to the nation on December 28, to spend time with loved ones on New Year's Eve and light candles in commemoration of those who had succumbed to the virus.

“Let us each light a candle in memory of those who have lost their lives, in tribute to those on the front line who are working tirelessly to protect us from harm, in appreciation of the great sacrifices that have been made this past year, and in the confidence that the year ahead will bring health, peace and hope to our people,” said the president.

Mthembu, like many other South Africans, shared pictures of him and his family, saying they welcomed the new year with “hope and anticipation of better things to come”. 

Mthembu tested positive for Covid-19 two weeks later and succumbed to the virus on Thursday morning.

ANC Deputy secretary-general Jessie Duarte told the media that the Mthembu family was in deep mourning and trying to come to terms with their "incalculable" loss.

“They have lost somebody very important to them, so I think the loss for them is incalculable. We can't describe it, it's deep. It will take them a long time to recover and we will give all the support that we can give.”

The minister has been hailed as one of the front line servants during the deadly pandemic, as he regularly interacted with members of the media during press briefings to provide updates on government's response to the crisis.

After announcing that he had contracted the virus, Mthembu was criticised by one Twitter user, who wrote: “The same people who tell us to wash our hands and wear masks every day are contracting Covid-19 ...”

The minister's response, his last words on the platform, was: “They are human too.”

Ramaphosa described the minister as an exemplary leader.

Minister Mthembu was an exemplary leader, an activist and lifelong champion of freedom and democracy. He was a much-loved and greatly respected colleague and comrade, whose passing leaves our nation at a loss.”