- Lungile Tom, 45, a cameraman for eNCA, died of Covid-19 in a private hospital in Bellville, Cape Town, last month.
- He has been described a loving family man and much-respected colleague.
- The Western Cape premier's office, as well as the ANC in Parliament, have sent their condolences.
Lungile Tom had big plans to make his son's birthday memorable this year.
Young Imivuyo, 9, would turn 10 on 1 July, with his dad planning to get him the cellphone and takkies he wanted while celebrating his special day with a birthday cake.
"It was always him and Imivuyo. Their bond… he was a very hands-on dad," his wife, Phumeza, said.
"But I told Imivuyo I would take care of his birthday plans now that his dad is no longer there."
Tom, 45, a cameraman for eNCA, died of Covid-19 in a private hospital in Bellville, Cape Town, on 13 May.
A week before his death, he had started feeling under the weather and began self-medicating that Friday.
On the Sunday, he complained of being unable to breathe and was transported by ambulance to hospital.
That Monday, he had tested positive for Covid-19. Two days later, he died.
Their house in Leiden, Delft, has been quiet ever since, Phumeza said.
"He was loud. When he came home from work, you heard the noise before he even came through the door," she recalled.
And her husband knew how to make her smile, Phumeza told News24.
"When he was around, you would always laugh a lot."
Everything happened too quickly for her, Phumeza said. He was buried less than a week after his death after a short service.
What saddened her more was that Lungile's mother was unable to attend her son's funeral as she has a comorbidity and was advised not to make the trip to Cape Town from East London. Lungile's oldest son, who also lives in the Eastern Cape, also could not attend.
She will miss her husband, Phumeza said. But Lungile's love of photos and capturing special moments meant her son would have a lot of pictures to remember the happy times he had with his dad.
"It has been difficult, but we will heal."
Lungile also had another partner, Nandipha, with whom he had spent more than a decade of his life.
"He was the heart of this family. He was love personified," a grieving Nandipha told News24.
"There was always happiness and noise wherever he was. Even when it was just him and the kids, it sounded like there were 12 people around."
He texted Nandipha the day after being transported by ambulance to hospital to confirm that he had tested positive for Covid-19.
"We had a video call that Monday and he was joking and laughing like he usually does. He told me they would be putting him on a ventilator and sedating him. He was hopeful that it would make him feel better."
That was the last conversation she would have with him.
"I kept calling and calling. The hospital staff later told me that he was not responding, that they will keep me updated. But nothing changed.
"The Wednesday morning, the hospital called and told me to come in. He wasn't waking up.
"When I got there at 08:00, he was already gone."
Dressed in full personal protective equipment, she stared at Lungile in disbelief after being asked to identify his body.
"I wanted to shake him and wake him back up," she said.
"When the house was too quiet, he would always jump out from somewhere and scare me. It felt like this could be one of his pranks. He was always full of jokes."
Nandipha and Tom had been together for 11 years.
Tom, originally from East London, has a grown son as well as Imivuyo.
His funeral was impersonal, Nandipha said, but she understood why it had to be that way.
"But it is difficult to explain to a 10-year-old child why they cannot open the box for him to see his dad, or to put into words that daddy is wrapped inside. I felt detached," she said.
"Even when we couldn't go to hospital to see or visit him… It feels like you're throwing someone away."
Media workers are categorised as essential service workers and continued working throughout the lockdown. Virtual interviews and meetings have replaced many contact interviews, but many still went into the field to report.
Nandipha is convinced Tom contracted the virus while covering a story.
She had also been infected, but was recently retested. Her results were inconclusive. The children had not contracted the virus.
Tom's former colleague, talk show host Lester Kiewit, described the cameraman with the snappy dress sense as a "tender, older-brother figure, whose physical size made you feel safe and secure, no matter where we were reporting from".
Behind the camera for my very first live crossing at Parliament. Always with words of encouragement. You loved to snap pics, but I got these last ones of you on the precinct just before lockdown. I will carry you in my heart, forever. Thank you for everything, darling Lungs. pic.twitter.com/XexC1y1tC4— Lindsay Dentlinger (@metrobabe) May 13, 2020
And he did it with eagerness and enthusiasm. The energy never waned. In a cruel twist of fate, on what would be one of his last shoots at Parliament, we filmed staff being screened for the virus that has claimed his life. #RIPLungile https://t.co/jofyfjeiqd— Lindsay Dentlinger (@metrobabe) May 13, 2020
The ANC in Parliament said the coronavirus pandemic had robbed the media industry of one of its most dedicated cameramen, with ANC chief whip Pemmy Majodina saying Tom will always be remembered for his work ethic and friendly personality.
Western Cape Premier Alan Winde also shared his condolences after Lungile's death, saying he regularly reported on provincial government events and was well respected and liked by his administration.
We were saddened to hear the news today of the passing of @eNCA cameraman Lungile Tom. Lungile regularly attended WC Gov events to report on them & was well respected & liked by the WC cabinet & the entire communications team. We send our condolences to his family & colleagues. pic.twitter.com/Bf8MGmzhhJ— Premier Alan Winde (@alanwinde) May 13, 2020
Nandipha said she was overwhelmed by the umpteen phone calls and messages she received after her husband's death.
"I had no idea just how loved he was. He wasn't the kind of person that held himself in higher regard than others. He was a friendly soul and had a good heart."
- This story has been updated to include comments from Lungile's wife Phumeza.