Although there’s occasionally still a chill in the breeze, it’s clear now that spring is in the air. Winter is no longer coming, neither is Covid-19. For many people the sense of dread is departing, giving way to a return to normality: time for friends, family, sport, unhindered love, the prospect of summer holidays.
The Healthcare Workers Heroes Memorial aims to recognise and remember all those “who have fallen in the line of duty”. Yet, unlike soldiers, for whom monuments and memorials were traditionally constructed, the duty of those who fell in the Covid-19 “war” was not to take lives but to save lives. They lost their lives saving others. They could have stayed at home and refused to work. They didn’t. They followed their calling and worked in the line of fire.
How do we pay fitting tribute to Dr Lungile Pepeta and the 181 other healthcare workers who have so far laid down their lives in the struggle against Covid-19?
Throughout much of 2017, South Africa was gripped by a health disaster of another type – the Life Esidimeni tragedy. It seems that its lessons are being forgotten already.
This morning, Sandile Buthelezi, will complete a 26-year journey through offices and corridors of hospitals and health facilities, scattered across South Africa and the region, when he takes up his new position as the Director-General (DG) of the National Department of Health.
As I went for one of my early-morning runs last week, it was a rubbish collection day. As I panted up and down hills on the comfortable, sequestered roads around Observatory, I noticed many more people than usual foraging in the bins. These were not just waste-pickers. On that day the small army of informal workers who sift rubbish for a living was supplemented by people picking through bins for scraps of food. Household food waste was being packed into plastic bags in much the same way as a more wealthy shopper carries away foodstuffs from still well-stocked supermarkets.
This week it is likely that the world will record its five millionth confirmed Covid-19 case – and yet the pandemic has very far from run its course.
As a young adult, Clarence ‘Bizzah’ Mini jumped the border to join umKhonto weSizwe, trained with the June 16th Detachment in Angola and survived ‘the Boers’; in exile, he was trained and qualified as a doctor; in early middle age, he returned to South Africa just as the Aids epidemic was taking hold, became an Aids activist and worked tirelessly against HIV, which killed three million of his compatriots over the following two decades. But this week, Dr Clarence Mini, was eventually felled by Covid-19, a coronavirus nobody had drawn up battle plans for.
Dr Victor Holland, who died on 19th April, was born and grew up in the years just before the advent of National Party rule and apartheid. His life and profession as a doctor was blighted by racism and inequality but it also forged a life-long approach to equality in medicine and health.
An online memorial service was held on Saturday for world-renowned South African HIV researcher Professor Gita Ramjee who died last week of complications related to Covid-19. Maverick Citizen editor and long-time HIV activist Mark Heywood was one of those who paid tribute to Ramjee during the memorial. Below is the short, but heartfelt tribute he delivered.