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ONE YEAR OF COVID-19: 10 sobering facts about the pandemic in SA

05 March 2021 - 05:01 By Khanyisile Ngcobo
Some sobering facts about the Covid-19 pandemic, a year after it first hit SA.
Some sobering facts about the Covid-19 pandemic, a year after it first hit SA.
Image: Thapelo Morebudi

The coronavirus pandemic has brought a time of uncertainty, tragedy and new ways of living for South Africans. Many have lost loved ones, grappled with the virus and dealt with the ravaging effects of lockdown.

SA has made many discoveries about the virus since it first hit our shores.

As the country reflects on a year with Covid-19, here are some sobering and not-so-sombre facts on the pandemic in SA:

  • The first Covid-19 case was recorded on March 5 2020. The patient was a 38-year-old male who had travelled to Italy with his wife as part of a group of 10 people who had arrived in the country four days earlier.
  • On March 28, the health ministry announced the first Covid-related death. On January 13 2021 the country recorded its highest death toll in a single day - clocking in 806 new Covid-19 related deaths in 24 hours.

  • SA had recorded 50,462 deaths at the time of publishing: Citizens across all races, cultures and professions have fallen victim to the virus, including high-profile people like minister in the presidency Jackson Mthembu, celebrated foodie Dorah Sitole, KZN MEC Bheki Ntuli and radio man Welcome Nzimande, to name but a few.
  • SA breached the 1-million cases mark on December 27. A day earlier, the country entered the top 20 list of countries with the highest infections. SA has remained on that list since.
  • SA has Africa's highest number of Covid-19 cases and death toll, far outstripping the likes of Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco.
  • SA became the first country to administer the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. The drug manufacturer released its third-phase trial results in January.
  • SA is among the nine African countries vaccinating their populations. Seychelles became the first African country to roll out a vaccine in early January.


While it's been a sobering year grappling with the virus, there have been some light moments to emerge from the pandemic. The most notable came from the national lockdown, which sparked court cases, memes, new booze brews and hit songs inspired by the government's more bizarre rules.

Here are a few notable ones:

  • The national lockdown saw a range of regulations implemented under the Disaster Management Act, some to curb the spread of the virus, while others left many scratching their heads at their “absurdity” . Some that drew the ire of many South Africans included the lengthy ban on alcohol and cigarettes, as well as the bans on cooked food and certain clothing items. 

  • An unintended consequence of the lengthy booze ban was the spike in the brewing and consumption of pineapple beer. The thirst and frustration that many South Africans faced during the repeated ban on alcohol saw many taking to making their own brew, resulting in the boozy drink being ranked Mzansi's go-to tipple multiple times over.

  • Of course, what would the list be without a mention of some of the hit songs to emerge during the lockdown. While many popular songs were given a revival or Covid-19 twist, new parodies emerged, with hilarious results. Some of the most popular songs came from The Kiffness, who left South Africans in stitches with the likes of My Corona, Zol and a Covid-19 version of Toto's hit song Africa.