Maliek Fagodien had always imagined a big send-off for his father when he died.
But the well-known and respected elder in the Muslim community, who used to be the voice of the call to prayer at the Kapteinsklip Masjid, final farewell was attended by only 15 people after he succumbed to the coronavirus.
“He died alone,” a bereft Fagodien said.
“We couldn’t be by his bedside as he went through this. I couldn’t comfort and calm him, or even say that last goodbye face to face.
“I want people to know what happened to my father so that they will realise how serious this is and take precautions. I don’t want anyone to go through what my family and I went through.”
Struggling to breathe
His 70-year-old father, who lived in Surrey Estate, was admitted to a private hospital in Cape Town on 26 April after he phoned his son at 04:00, struggling to breathe.
A few days earlier, he had told Fagodien in their weekly phone call he had the flu.
The last time he saw his dad was in his hospital bed after he was wheeled in that day, pale and struggling to move.
“I didn’t expect that to be the final time. He was a healthy man and the only time he had been in hospital before then was three years ago when he got his pacemaker,” he said.
The next day, his father was confirmed to have contracted the coronavirus and was also diagnosed with diabetes.
“We don’t know how he contracted the virus. He was indoors most of the time, but went out to the shops.”
Fagodien and his siblings, who had all been in contact with their dad, were sent for testing. All were negative.
His father phoned him early every morning to chat, often complaining about being forced to lie in bed and not wanting to eat hospital food.
Every day, Fagodien would diligently drop his dad’s meal – marked clearly with his name – at the front desk of the hospital as he was not allowed in.
‘It was heartbreaking’
“It was difficult. When he phoned, I could hear he was struggling to breathe. He would stop while we spoke and look for air. It was heartbreaking,” he said.
“He didn’t want to be there. I had to explain to him numerous times why he needed to stay, as did the hospital staff. He didn’t seem to understand the seriousness of why he was being kept there.”
He tried to encourage his dad to stay strong during what would be their last conversation on 5 May.
“The day before he died, I encouraged him to keep fighting. I told him that we all loved him and that he couldn’t come home yet. He didn’t sound well and he was upset. It’s hard for me – I was the one who always phoned.
“He died the next afternoon. He had phoned my sister that morning and told her to tell me to give him a call. When I did, it just rang, unanswered.”
A doctor phoned him later, saying they were putting him on a ventilator. He died before they could.
“His heart gave in. I think he was tired and stopped fighting,” Fagodien said.
“It was hard, not being able to be there for him as he went through this.”
His father was buried that same day, in accordance with Muslim rites.
His body was identified and wrapped in cloth and protective plastic by trained undertakers in personal protective equipment before leaving the hospital for the Klip Road Muslim Cemetery.
“Under normal circumstances, it would have been a big janazah. He was well known and loved.”
Only 15 people said their final farewell at his graveside.
A frustrated Fagodien said it upset him to see his neighbours in Mitchells Plain walk the streets “like it’s the December holidays”, which prompted him to write a heartfelt Facebook post about the dangers of Covid-19.
“If you think that you [sic] invincible then go ahead, have social gatherings, go out without a mask, let your children play outside and don’t sanitise. Remember, you don’t know who is infected and that is the scary part of this virus [sic],” his post read.
‘Stop being so ignorant’
Fagodien urged people to “stop being so ignorant”.
“If you get infected, there will be no one to comfort you and say their goodbyes. Stay home. Wear your mask and sanitise.”
According to Friday’s provincial statistics, 7,586 cases have been confirmed in the Western Cape, up by 366 from 7,220 a day ago.
An additional eight deaths have been reported in the last day, bringing the total fatalities to 137.