Dealing with the loss of a loved one is never easy, especially in the wake of a global pandemic.
This is a hurdle that the Qongqo family from the Eastern Cape has been faced with during the national lockdown.
Just two weeks have passed since they celebrated Sibusiso Qongqo’s 30th birthday on 14 April. They recall their excitement about his arrival in July 2020 to start his internship with the Department of Health.
In 2012, Sibusiso received a scholarship from the department to pursue his medical studies in Cuba. He was in his 5th year of medicine when he suddenly passed away in Havana on 29 April – just days after being diagnosed with acute pancreatitis.
“He said he couldn’t wait to see us and get to spend more birthdays with us,” Sibusiso’s sister, Phiwokuhle, recalls their last conversation.
“We were so devastated because we received the news that he was ill in the days before. On Thursday [30 April] we received news that he’d passed away Wednesday morning. We were very shocked,” Phiwokuhle tells YOU.
The last time the family had seen Sibusiso was when he was in South Africa on holiday in 2018 – and now they won’t be able to ever again see his smile, laugh with him or have him listening to their stories as he used to do.
“He was a very strong person, he even used to say stuff like, ‘You shouldn’t remain in the hospital bed, it’s going to get used to you, one day you won't come back.’ [For] someone who used to make jokes like that, you never expect that an illness would take him as quickly as it did,” the devastated sibling tells us.
Now the Qongqos are left to decide whether to let Sibusiso be buried in Cuba or to have his ashes flown back home once lockdown restrictions are lifted.
"We want Sibusiso's body to be brought home . . . It hurts so much because his death surprised us and the lockdown is affecting us because it’s not easy to get his remains,” Phiwokuhle says.
South Africa’s ambassador to Cuba, Thaninga Shope-Linney, says at this point the family only have two options: “He either has to be buried here [in Cuba] or cremated, but once the airlines start again, his remains can be taken back to South Africa.”