Dear Mr President, Covid-19 hit me and my family hard, but the next 16 days are about the scourge of GBV

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Protesters wearing face masks to protect against the coronavirus, seen during a gender based violence protest outside parliament on June 30, 2020 in Cape Town. Photo by Nardus Engelbrecht/ Gallo Images via Getty Images
Protesters wearing face masks to protect against the coronavirus, seen during a gender based violence protest outside parliament on June 30, 2020 in Cape Town. Photo by Nardus Engelbrecht/ Gallo Images via Getty Images

President Cyril Ramaphosa's lukewarm declaration of five days of mourning for Covid-19 victims at the start of 16 Days of Activism is like a band-aid on wounds that are killing us, literally, writes Nthabi Nhlapo.

Dear, Mr President

On the morning of June 29, I got a call that I never wished to receive from the hospital. My father had been admitted to the hospital four days prior and had tested positive for Covid-19. I had spoken and joked with him the previous night. He was fine and ready to come home.

So, when the nurse phoned me to say that, while he had been drinking his morning tea, a blood clot had somehow constricted his breathing and he had passed after failed resuscitation attempts, I was mortified. Until that moment, I had believed that Covid patients got very ill and were put on ventilators before they died. My dad had never been critical. He was never on a ventilator and did not have a major comorbidity – but he still died.

READ MORE: OPINION | Why 'men need to protect women' is a phrase stained with toxic masculinity

I had to call the hospital several times to confirm and double-check that they were talking about my dad, my ally, the one person who truly understood me. It was him, and I had to break the news to my mother and brothers. My mother was Covid-positive and self-isolating, so she couldn't attend the funeral of someone who'd been her best friend for almost 40 years. I also self-isolated in case I had been infected, so I didn't attend the funeral either. None of us has ever been okay since. 

covid, gbv, 16 days of activism

covid, gbv, 16 days of activism

Top: My dad left us unexpectedly, a painful reminder that Covid is real and leaves havoc in its path. Mom, Moyahabo Prescilla Nhlapo with dad, Moses Mofeli Nhlapo. Above: With dad. Photos: writer's own.

We suffered another blow when my dad's mom passed 10 weeks after my dad's funeral. I think she was heartbroken and felt defeated after my dad. Following my gran's funeral, I (and several other family members) contracted Covid and went through an extremely emotionally and physically demanding time. My dad had died suddenly without ever being critical, so we also feared the same could happen to any of us again. I'm still experiencing some of the symptoms, as are many of my family members who were infected after the funeral.

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Despite all of that, I don't think one can justify taking five days away from 16 Days of Activism to mourn Covid victims. That only takes away time, energy and media opportunities to talk about GBV, on the back of mourning, that could have been done any other time, and received due respect and attention.

Sadly, Covid is not going anywhere any time soon - it will be with us for a long time. We continue to see fatalities across the globe, so it's difficult to come up with a legitimate reason why the Presidency saw it fit to combine Covid mourning with gender-based violence issues. Personally, I feel a double slap in the face.

As someone who's gone through an extremely challenging time due to Covid, and a woman, the next five days feel like nothing more than a half-hearted PR exercise to appease GBV and Covid victims.

It's disappointing, Mr President.

READ MORE: If you have 2 minutes to spare, this GBV short film featuring Leleti Khumalo is a must-see

There are still 21 days left of 2020 after 16 Days of Activism ends on December 10. I also wonder if the president would have considered having a day of mourning coincide with the Day of Reconciliation (16 December) or Christmas (25 December), Human Rights Day (21 March) next year, or how about Freedom Day (27 April) next year. I doubt it.

Surely women, who historically have always been served crumbs in the home and workplace, deserve much better, as do the victims of Covid.

Out of respect for my father, the over 21 000 reported Covid victims in our country, and the 1.4 million global victims and their families, I will also observe the days of mourning.

But I hope next time, our government will be fully invested in the things that matter in the lives of South Africans. A half-and-half approach doesn't convey too much genuine concern about women or Covid – it's crumbs.

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