Clarence Mini, Lungile Tom: four lives Covid-19 has claimed
As the death toll from the coronavirus in SA passed 200 this week, four families paid tribute to loved ones who lost their lives on the frontline ofthe fight against it
Clarence Mini held many titles, from Umkhonto weSizwe freedom fighter to doctor and HIV/Aids activist. But for his son Luyanda, the title was “hero”.
“When I was a teenager my dad was my hero. For a lot of kids that is a dream that fades quite early. But my dad has always been the man I aspire to be,” he said.
Mini, chair of the Council for Medical Schemes, died this week at the age of 68 after contracting Covid-19. In the days before his death his Covid tests actually came back negative, but the disease had already taken its toll.
In his youth, Mini left the country to join the armed struggle, cut his teeth in Angola and trained as a doctor while in exile. Later, while Luyanda and his siblings attended private boarding schools in Grahamstown, Mini and his wife, Nancy, opened a practice in Germiston where they treated HIV/Aids patients for free.
“From an early age he taught us about the importance of stopping the stigma of HIV. I remember being in grade 1 and all my stationery was emblazoned with ‘Stop the Stigma’ while everyone else had stuff with Power Rangers on it.”
Luyanda said his father, an avid reader, would give his children holiday assignments. “We’d have to pick one of the books he’d read, and after he’d come home from a long day at work, we needed to play back to him what we had read during the day,” he said.
“In grade 7 I was reading Stephen Hawking and in grade 8 I was reading Karl Marx. He wasn’t asking us to read Harry Potter. He wanted substance.” In his last six weeks, as Mini fought Covid-19, his family were kept at arm’s length.
“We couldn’t sit at his bedside and talk to him; we couldn’t get the church to get people to sing to him while he was sedated. Even now, burying him will have to be done at a distance,” said Luyanda.
“I have seen people complaining about some of the milder inconveniences of the lockdown. Our family are dealing with the real consequences of this pandemic.”
Broadcast journalist Lungile Tom had a big heart. He died at the age of 45 in a Cape Town hospital on Wednesday, the first South African journalist to die of Covid-19.
“He was able to bring people together. We would walk into a place and find people tense and he would crack a joke,” said his wife, Nandipha Nombutuma.
“He always told us that he is very shy. But he was not shy at all.”
Tom had no formal journalism training, learning on the job to become one of SA’s best cameramen.
“He worked for an advertising agency as a driver and then at CNBC Africa,” Nombutuma said. “He would drive the crew to stories and the camera guys taught him how to shoot.”
He joined eNCA in 2013. Nombutuma doesn’t know how Tom contracted the virus.
“The last story he did was that of joggers in Sea Point. He had flu some time last week, it was just a normal flu.
The hospital called us on Tuesday evening and said they doubt he’s going to make it through the nightLungile Tom's wife Nandipha Nombutuma
He said he had nasal congestion and he went to the doctor and got a few meds. But he wasn’t concerned because he had tested for Covid-19 at work before they started covering the corona stories and he had tested negative,” she said.
“On Sunday evening he said he was struggling to breathe and he kept going outside for fresh air. Around 10pm he said he wanted to go to hospital and we called an ambulance. On Monday he told us he would be sedated because he was not doing well.
“The hospital called us on Tuesday evening and said they doubt he’s going to make it through the night. On Wednesday they said we should quickly come and we arrived at around 8am. He had passed away around 7.30am.”
Nombutuma has tested positive for the virus but her son negative. “We are still in shock and disbelief. I feel like he will walk in through the door and tell us: ‘It was a prank, I am alive.’”
A week before Tygerberg Hospital nurse Ntombizakithi Ngidi died, she asked her colleagues if they could put money together and cook a special meal before they all went on break.
“We all thought it was a good idea and we bought two imileqwa [farm chickens], which we prepared with dumplings. Now looking back, it’s as if Zakithi knew this would be our last supper together. She loved cooking so much and taught us new recipes all the time,” said her colleague, Sisanda Dakie, who worked with Ngidi at the designated Covid-19 hospital’s J Ground medical emergency ward.
Ngidi, an assistant nurse, died at the age of 49 last Thursday after being ill for about a week. She is the second nurse to die of Covid-19 in the Western Cape.Siyabonga Ngidi described his little sister, who was diabetic, as the “backbone of our family”.
“Zakithi was everything to us. She was the sole provider in the family … our hope is gone,” he said.
Zakithi was everything to us. She was the sole provider in the family … our hope is gone.
“My sister touched so many lives with her caring hands. She was a soldier that fought this invisible enemy … But when she died in that hospital ward she was all alone. The war had cost her life and no-one could even be at her bedside and say: ‘Go well, Zakithi, you have finished your race.’”
Ngidi will be buried today in her ancestral village of Nyangwini near Port Shepstone, KwaZulu-Natal. Dakie, in self-isolation while she awaits her test results, said Ngidi loved her family and always showed her pictures of her elderly mother. She went back to nursing so she could help her mother care for her two orphaned nieces.
Ngidi’s death has “left a sadness that’s difficult to explain”, she said. Her death has also “left all of us paranoid. None of us are prepared to die, but as nurses this is a war that we must go into while everyone is running away from it.”
In 1992, Colette Leslie was barely three months out of school when a dashing policeman asked her to be his Valentine on a dusty sports ground in Middelburg in the Eastern Cape. Andrew Leslie became her first boyfriend — and eventually her husband.
On Monday, just a week before the couple’s 15th wedding anniversary, he died of Covid-19 at the age of 53. Colette said her husband, the acting commander of Middelburg police station, sacrificed time with his family to serve those who needed him.
“My house ended up like being a charge office. People would come to our home for help. He would take phone calls at all hours of the night and he thought nothing about getting out of bed to go and help people,” she said.
“There were so many times where he would not even finish a meal because he was called away. I would see him for a few minutes at night after I finished work and then he would run back to the station.”
Colette thinks Andrew contracted the virus at work. Two weeks ago he developed a fever but convinced his family it was just a cold.
“I wanted to take him to the hospital and he refused. He said he would fight this virus and told me not to worry,” she said. But his health deteriorated, he tested positive for Covid-19, and he agreed to go to hospital last week.
“I left him by the isolation room and I had to wait outside. When he died, I was in the parking lot,” Colette said.
Andrew’s funeral lasted just 30 minutes. Pallbearers in hazmat suits lowered his coffin into the ground as Colette watched from a distance. “We couldn’t even see him. The coffin was covered in plastic and tape. We had to stand far away,” she said.
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