Covid-19 pandemic: it was a time for heroes across the land

Those at the frontline took the brunt while others held the fort

27 December 2020 - 00:02 By Susan Smuts
Teacher Tamsyn Naidoo, Sister Mabala Ncebakazi of the Tafelsig Clinic, regional inspector of law enforcement Llewellyn Grove and SAPS Capt Ian Williams get together to celebrate the festive spirit. Health-care workers, teachers and police officers have been the heroes of the pandemic, answering a higher calling and putting their lives at risk to keep the nation safe. We pay tribute to the South Africans who have gone above and beyond their duty in this time of unprecedented disruption, hardship and fear, the ones who showed what we can do when we come together.
Teacher Tamsyn Naidoo, Sister Mabala Ncebakazi of the Tafelsig Clinic, regional inspector of law enforcement Llewellyn Grove and SAPS Capt Ian Williams get together to celebrate the festive spirit. Health-care workers, teachers and police officers have been the heroes of the pandemic, answering a higher calling and putting their lives at risk to keep the nation safe. We pay tribute to the South Africans who have gone above and beyond their duty in this time of unprecedented disruption, hardship and fear, the ones who showed what we can do when we come together.
Image: Esa Alexander

A year that to all intents and purposes began only on March 27 when SA went into hard lockdown brought lashings of misery and hardship, most keenly felt by those who had the fewest resources to withstand the disruptions of Covid-19.

It also showed SA to be brimming with civic-minded heroes who were ready and able to step up to help their fellow citizens. Evidence of resilience, compassion, ingenuity and sense of common purpose was everywhere.

The previously much-abused concept of ubuntu took its rightful place as the animating spirit of the nation.Health-care workers have answered their calling with the courage that legend is made of, the kind that accepts risk to their own lives in service to the common good.

Many have died after contracting the virus, among them nurses Merle Jacobs, of Port Elizabeth's Livingstone Hospital, and Ntombizakithi Ngidi, of Tygerberg Hospital in Cape Town. 

We owe a debt of gratitude to those who died and those who continue to face that risk.

Health-care workers at Charlotte Maxeke hospital in Johannesburg.
Health-care workers at Charlotte Maxeke hospital in Johannesburg.
Image: Sebabatso Mosamo and Thapelo Morebudi
Teachers had to change in a hurry. Google Classroom, Microsoft Teams, Zoom and WhatsApp replaced the classroom.
Teachers had to change in a hurry. Google Classroom, Microsoft Teams, Zoom and WhatsApp replaced the classroom.
Image: Sibongile Portia Jonas / New Frame

Health-care workers have also shown us the courage of endurance.

They have been exhausted by hard work, the trauma, the emotion of caring for dying patients without loved ones close by, by the isolation they must maintain to keep their own families safe, by impossibly hard decisions on whom to treat when equipment and medicine are scarce.

Teachers had to change in a hurry. Google Classroom, Microsoft Teams, Zoom and WhatsApp replaced the classroom. Grappling with their own fears for their safety, teachers found ways to keep their pupils up to speed with schoolwork.

Perhaps even more importantly, many continued to care for pupils facing challenges such as hunger and neglect. Once back in the classroom, teachers took on huge increases in workload as they taught more classes with fewer pupils, ensured social distancing, wiped down surfaces and conducted online classes for pupils at risk.

This week we learnt that nearly 1,500 teachers have died of Covid.

Policemen and women had to put themselves not only in the line of physical danger but also in Covid danger, so they could protect others.

Some of them, too, including Andrew Leslie of Middelburg in the Eastern Cape, have died.

In numbers

• 3,310 - Average daily number of confirmed infections since the first on March 5

• 97 - Average daily number of deaths since the first on March 5

• 2.69% - SA mortality rate

• 2.2% - Global mortality rate

President Cyril Ramaphosa and health minister Zweli Mkhize have shown strong, proactive and reassuring leadership, treating citizens as responsible adults.

The "family meetings" where Ramaphosa spoke directly to the nation helped to make us feel we were all in this together. For the most part, we could see the merit of the decisions taken by the government.

We responded noisily, as we are wont to do, when we disagreed with some of the wackier regulations (cigarettes, shirts with short sleeves and rotisserie chicken), but understood there was no blueprint for a response to the pandemic.

There was never going to be agreement about the correct balance between health and economic concerns. But we felt the debates and the decisions were about what was best for the country and not about what was best for special interest groups.

It was a refreshing experience, even in the face of the suffering that Covid ripped open. Mkhize was at the forefront of the pandemic, working through his own bout of Covid, urging us to take precautions and keeping us up to date with the latest statistics on infections, deaths and trends.

Basic education minister Angie Motshekga had the impossible task of balancing the many conflicting demands of keeping teachers and children safe, fed (after some robust prodding from NGOs), educated, online or not online, in the classroom or not in the classroom

Prominent members of the ministerial advisory committee, among them co-chair Salim Abdool Karim, Shabir Madhi, Glenda Gray and Helen Rees did much more than advise the minister and continue with their day jobs of developing vaccines, conducting research and running organisations.

They engaged with the public through articles, interviews and appearances on radio and television, sharing their insights and equipping us with scientific information that enabled us to make informed decisions.

At grassroots level, people responded to the greater levels of hunger by cooking for their communities and sharing the little they have. Community action networks sprang up throughout the country, aimed at providing food and essentials to people in need during lockdown. They also activated networks that built bridges across the fractures of our society with a view to post-pandemic community organisation.

Musicians, among them Black Coffee, used their talents to raise money for organisations dealing with the aftershocks of the pandemic. Master KG and Nomcebo Zikode gave SA - and the world — a soundtrack to practise being together while apart in the form of the viral smash Jerusalema.

And David Scott, also known as The Kiffness, gave us rueful laughter with his musical skits about life under lockdown. Reporters and photographers went out to the frontlines as the rest of us retreated into our homes. Caregivers in old-age homes looked after people whose families were not allowed to see them.

Small business owners cashed in their savings and pensions to make sure their workers had incomes, especially those in restaurants, bars and tourist facilities. People signed up for vaccine trials. Religious bodies conducted services and ceremonies online.

Neighbours helped soup kitchens meet the increased demand. People donated to fundraising efforts.

Solidarity is only possible when we realise we are part of a whole.

For all the heartache, hunger and ugliness that Covid brought, it also affirmed the underlying connection between us, it opened our eyes to the challenges that we face and it made us realise that we all have something to contribute to the solutions.


subscribe

Would you like to comment on this article or view other readers' comments? Register (it’s quick and free) or sign in now.

Speech Bubbles

Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.