New Covid-19 wave’s tsunami of grief

More than 3,000 Covid-19 deaths were recorded between Monday and Saturday this week, with daily deaths stats smashing SA records for three consecutive days. In total, more than 36,000 people have died in SA in the pandemic. Among them are mothers, fathers, children, husbands and wives, whose loved ones have been left devastated. These are some of their stories.

17 January 2021 - 00:03
By Alex Patrick, Mpumzi Zuzile and Aron Hyman
Monica Kriek.
Image: Supplied Monica Kriek.

The ’kwaai’ ouma people loved

Retired Middelburg nurse Monica Kriek was “a kwaai ouma people loved” who looked after her grandchildren as if she was their mother.

In fact, it was her 15-year-old granddaughter who alerted the family that Kriek, 66, was struggling to breathe — Ouma herself was more concerned about her sick husband and sister than about herself. Suffering from flu-like symptoms since January 5, Kriek kept insisting to her daughter, Theresa Apostol, who is living in Romania, that she was fine.

Kriek died in the car as her husband Hannes, 78, rushed her to hospital last Sunday. Apostol returned to SA as soon as she heard the news.

She and her husband emigrated in March last year, leaving their two daughters with the Krieks while their passports were finalised. It would be a whole year before they saw them again. “My mom was the mother hen — she was a kwaai ouma people loved,” Apostol said.

“My daughters love their Ouma and Oupa and Mom was more of a mother to them last year than I was.

“On Monday, she told me she was feeling flu-ish and had body aches. The doctor gave her antibiotics but she went back on Thursday not feeling any better. The doctor said a Covid test was a waste of time but she should treat her illness as if it was Covid.”

On Friday, Kriek had diarrhoea and a fever.

“She started having breathing problems on Saturday evening,” Apostol said.“On Sunday morning, I got a call from my daughter to say, ‘Ouma can’t breathe’. I told my father to drive her to the hospital.

Ten minutes later my daughter called to say Grandma collapsed. Then my dad started screaming, ‘She’s dead! She’s dead!’”

Deaths in South Africa as at January 2021
Image: Graphic by Nolo Moima Deaths in South Africa as at January 2021
After New Year’s Day, Bambezakhe Goya started feeling weak and suffered from shortness of breath.
Image: Supplied After New Year’s Day, Bambezakhe Goya started feeling weak and suffered from shortness of breath.

Mayor  died caring for wife

Bambezakhe Goya died of Covid-19 after spending weeks caring for his severely ill wife, Thandy. The 64-year-old mayor of Ingquza Hill Local Municipality, an administrative area in the OR Tambo district of the Eastern Cape, had tested negative when his wife tested positive.“She was very sick but she fought the virus and recovered,” said family spokesperson Nyaniso Nelani.

But soon after New Year’s Day, Goya started feeling weak and suffered from shortness of breath. “He was hospitalised and did not recover, and died this past Tuesday,” said Nelani. He described Goya as a champion fighter for public health and good governance.

“We are shattered, he was the centre of our family. He was a father and a husband other than being the mayor.”Goya was the third family member to die of Covid-19. “This has shaken the entire family to the core. We are scared,” Nelani said.

“We have locked our family home and we are not allowing anyone to visit us.”Co-operative governance minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma paid tribute to Goya this week: “His dedicated service to the people since 2006 is notable and he will be remembered for his diligence and sense of humour,” she said.

Ingquza Hill speaker Ntandokazi Capa said Goya had spent his time crisscrossing the municipality to educate people on how to prevent the spread of Covid-19. Goya was elected in 2006 as a ward councillor and re-elected in 2011. He was elected proportional representation councillor in 2016. He took over as mayor in 2018 following the removal of Pat Mdingi, whose time in office was rocked by infighting among ANC councillors.

Highly respected agricultural expert Prof Mohammad Karaan has succumbed to symptoms of Covid-19.
Image: MEC Ivan Meyer via Twitter Highly respected agricultural expert Prof Mohammad Karaan has succumbed to symptoms of Covid-19.

Policy guru who made sacrifices

Farming expert professor Mohammad Karaan, who died of a Covid-related illness this week, made huge sacrifices for his country, a Stellenbosch University colleague says. Professor Danie Brink, who will succeed Karaan as dean of agriculture at the university, has known him since 1988 when he enrolled as the faculty’s first black student.

Brink said Karaan’s dedication to working for the wellbeing of South Africans, which included helping to write the National Development Plan, took a toll on his health.

“He made huge sacrifices … and at times his health suffered due to the constant pressure and long hours and complexity and all the travelling,” said Brink.

“It attested to his commitment. He put the country first and he always put people first. The country was the symbol for him of the people that live in it.”

Karaan was a compassionate negotiator whose counsel was sought by the political establishment on issues including land reform, food insecurity, water scarcity and international trade.

“His contribution to food security both in terms of price and accessibility is immense,” said Brink.

Karaan had deep compassion and empathy for overlooked people, both in the Stellenbosch student body and in the organisations where he worked. “He’s a Stellenbosch native and that gave him insight later on for the transformation process which Stellenbosch had to embark on,” said Brink.

“When the word ‘transformation’ wasn’t even used, he was part of it. He was actually in that pressure cooker. He had a very hard time then and he spoke about it often. “It’s a complex situation to stand out but to also be isolated.”

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