Mr President, I am in mourning. Covid-19 has hit home. My mother has shuffled off this mortal coil. The woman whose breasts I suckled from to sustain my life, is dead.
My first love is no more. The people’s faith healer is late. As a reminder that she was never a citizen in the land of her birth, her death certificate records her as “never married”. Her marriage a long time ago was of no interest to the apartheid regime. I am inconsolable. Mom’s death has robbed me of my cheerleader, a friend and fountain of wisdom. She allowed me to dream, picked me up when I stumbled and stood up on mountain tops to exalt my success. She did the same for her 17 grandchildren.
She always promoted the virtues of peace and reconciliation, shunning conflict and strife. Significantly, my mom believed in science and valued education. We were all immunised and educated. In her honour and with foresight, we resolved not to have another family gathering, excluding funerals, until we had had the Covid-19 vaccine.
Mr President, my gorgeous mother had the most dazzling, wide and beautiful smile, a boisterous voice and a commanding presence. She was tall and self-assured, allowing nobody to look down upon her. Her laughter was cachinnating but always sincere.
I will miss my regular long phone calls to her. As soon as she answered her cellphone with her legendary “hello”, I would say in Zulu: “May I speak to Ntombikayise’ MaMlambo’ Rosta Mncube?” Her broad smile would break right there on the call and reverberate in Pretoria. She would retort: “Hhayibo, is this Home Affairs?”
She was physically large, super energetic and full of life. She set ambitious goals for her seven children and drove them to achieve. We are because of her. In short, she was a giant to me.
Mr President, I need to explain my mom’s journey through the health system before her demise. I wish neither to rubbish your efforts nor apportion blame for my mom’s death. She reported being unwell just before Christmas. She complained of flu-like symptoms. Her granddaughter Bule took her to a government clinic on December 27. She was tested for her existing conditions such as type 2 diabetes mellitus, and although it was high at 12,2, she was released without further care. Alarmingly, she was not tested for Covid-19 despite her age, comorbidities and symptoms.
The next day was dramatic as Bule took my mom to her private doctor. A few metres from the doctor’s consulting rooms, my mother was almost run over by a minibus taxi that sped away. She landed on the tarmac and was shaken.
Upon arrival at the doctor’s rooms, she was examined, and the doctor instructed that she be taken to hospital. Nonetheless, he didn’t call for an ambulance, even though my mother was lethargic and accompanied by a young granddaughter. He didn’t test her for Covid-19 despite her apparent symptoms. He scribbled something like: “GBA, AR flue, SATS (oxygen) 83%”, on his medical note. Instructively, he wrote something illegible: “and ...? Covid”.
Mr President, I panicked as soon as I read the note. I spent half the day trying to find my mother a government hospital other than Nkonjeni, because in my home town it is known as a death trap. I settled on a private ambulance to take her to either Eshowe or Ngwelezana hospital. To my surprise, all Ulundi-based private ambulances were busy.
At 3 pm, I turned to the government ambulance service to take my mother to the death trap Nkonjeni Hospital. The ambulance people said none was available. We turned to self-help. A relative with a private vehicle took my mother, a suspected Covid-19 case, to Nkonjeni. She was admitted within an hour.
To the credit of your leadership Mr President, my mom was examined by a qualified doctor on arrival and admitted to a Covid-19 ward. On the day her Covid-19 tests came back positive, her husband was also admitted to the same hospital. Although he tested positive, he survived. Your people, Mr President, arrived at our home to test everybody (twice) but only the second round of test results came back, all negative. After the funeral, the local municipality fumigated all the houses at home. We thank you, Mr President, and all your front-line workers.
My mom died on January 4. She was 78. She is survived by her husband and five of her seven children. In memoriam, a British/SA film company that I am working with has decided to dedicate the upcoming film about the ANC struggle days to her for her role as a special isiZulu cultural advisor. Fare-thee-well, my dearest mother. We will “laugh at the absurdity of death when I see you again”. Till next week, my man. “Send me.”
• Bhekisisa Mncube is a former senior Witness political journalist, the 2020 regional winner in the column category of the Vodacom Journalist of the Year Award, and author of The Love Diary of a Zulu Boy, a memoir.