Just a few months ago – even though it feels like a lifetime now – it was something affecting other people in a country far, far away. The chances of it coming here were slim, we were told. Don’t panic. But just look at us now. Like the rest of the world, we’re living life under a cloud of Covid-19 – and people are losing their lives, currently 2292 to be exact. As the virus continues its relentless march across the world, stories of both heartache and hope are emerging about South Africans affected by the disease.
NALEDI RADEBE (29)
When Naledi Radebe set off on her holiday to the United Kingdom, she could have never foreseen the frightening turn her trip would take. The model and content creator from Johannesburg was spending time with family in London when she first started experiencing a tight chest and difficulty breathing. It was Sunday 15 March – the same day President Cyril Ramaphosa made his first address to South Africa about the measures that would be put in place to try to curb the virus.
Terrified she wouldn’t be able to return, Naledi decided to take the first flight back home. “That was pretty much the international sentiment then – get home.”
Now, chatting to us via video call, Naledi is in her 17th day of self-isolation at home. She’s holding up okay, she says. “At this point I actually feel like I’m becoming a professional at it.” Naledi is well on her way to a full recovery but it’s been an unsettling experience. “At first I didn’t have a fever, I wasn’t coughing and I didn’t have a sore throat. But in the eight days while I waited for my test results my symptoms grew progressively worse.
“I started feeling dizzy at night and for two days I had body stiffness like I’d never had before. I later developed a cough.” Her first instinct after getting her test results back was to get hold of everyone she’d been in contact with before she left and during her time in the UK. So far only one of her friends has tested positive. “I asked my doctor what the next step was and he said I had pretty much been doing it. I just had to treat the symptoms and stay in self-isolation.” She spent the first week in bed and now, by week three, she’s focused on getting back into a routine.
“I wake up earlier and do exercises for my lungs,” she says.
“I’ve also been inhaling over a humidifier and taking a lot of immuneboosting sources, vitamins and zinc. I eat plenty of greens and oranges, things rich in vitamin C. I found it important to strengthen my body during this process.”
Naledi urges South Africans to take the pandemic and lockdown seriously. “It’s no longer about you, it’s about everyone else around you,” she says. “You may have a strong immune system but not everyone does.” The first thing she’ll do after being given the all clear after lockdown is “hug my mom”, she says. “Then I’ll hug my friends. I’ve realised just how much I miss social interaction. But I’m not complaining about being in isolation – we will come out of this if we obey the rules.”
RUTH MATHEBULA (39)
The East Rand-based entrepreneur works as a business coach and often travels for work. When Ruth started feeling ill, she was terrified.
“Obviously the anxiety shot up the roof,” she says. “I asked for a test because I’d been to a few public areas around the Bedfordview area in the past two weeks with work. “I must be honest, though, I did not have hectic symptoms, just a really tight chest and fever – which at the time I thought was just flu.”
But she decided to stay on the safe side and get tested at a private hospital in Kempton Park. Luckily, her three children had gone to her parents in rural Mpumalanga before she became infected. “We’re just waiting on my husband’s results and we’ll know where he stands. But for now, we take all the precautions given to us by the doctors.” And that includes staying indoors and resting. Ruth says she’s already feeling much better. “I trust God and my body will show up for me, and one day I will tell this phase as a story.”
Those left behind
GITA RAMJEE (64)
She was a tireless champion for the rights of women and an internationally acclaimed scientist who won awards for the research she did into HIV prevention. So when it emerged Gita had succumbed to Covid-19, her family was devastated.
To her sister, Asmita Parashar, the Durban-based scientist and activist was “the perfect homemaker” and loved spending her free time with husband Praveen and sons Kishore and Tribhovan. To her personal assistant Carina Kriel, who worked with Gita at the South African Medical Research Council, she was “an amazing leader and mentor” and “a caring person who loved her family”. Gita, who was from Durban, recently returned to SA from a trip to London when she fell ill and was admitted to hospital.
A few days later she died of Covid-19 complications, exacerbated by an underlying asthma condition. “The most heartbreaking thing when a friend or relative is hospitalised with Covid-19 is that they are completely alone till the end,” Asmita tweeted after Gita’s death.
“No one to visit, take care, give them a hug or hold their hand in their hour of need. That is what is most tragic. It’s the cruellest disease.” Close friend Melanie Mills says Gita was “an absolute inspiration”. “She said she couldn’t retire yet. There was still so much to do in the fight against HIV and she wasn’t ready to stop fighting.” Tragically, Covid-19 took the fight out of her.