Bernadette Wicks
Senior court reporter
4 minute read
25 Nov 2020
4:45 am

Covid-19 and GBV make a deadly combo

Bernadette Wicks

As of Monday, a total of 20 968 people in South Africa had died from Covid-19, while the country has also seen 23 rape-related murders and a total of 274 domestic violence-related murders between April and September.

Nurse Ruth Seikaneng (64) sits for a portrait at the Reivilo Health Centre in Reivilo, a town an hour away from Taung, North West Province, South Africa, on September 4, 2020. Seikaneng is one of two nurses on shift at any given time servicing the town of 4,000 people. When her colleague died from COVID-19 she had to work even longer hours to support the town. Thomson Reuters Foundation/Gulshan Khan

Over the course of the last six months, the Covid-19 pandemic and gender-based violence (GBV) have together claimed more than 21 000 lives in South Africa.

According to the Department of Health’s latest data, a total of 20 968 people in South Africa had as of Monday died from Covid-19 since it reached the country’s shores at the beginning of March. This represents around 2.7% of the total 769 759 people who have tested positive for the virus during this period.

And according to the National Institute For Communicable Diseases’ (NICD’s) latest data, more than half of these deaths took place in just three provinces – Gauteng, the Western Cape and the Eastern Cape, which recorded 4 174, 3 721 and 3 673 deaths respectively – with men aged 55 and older contributing the largest portion overall.

Read more: Lockdown’s pros and unfortunate cons

Notable deaths:

At the weekend, United Democratic Movement (UDM) deputy national chairperson Mncedisi Filtane became the latest politician to succumb to the virus.

His death came on the back of that of former Nelson Mandela Bay mayor Mongameli Bobani earlier this month.

In August, the Northern Cape’s MEC for education, Mac Jack, and the North West’s MEC for Cooperative Governance, Human Settlements and Traditional Affairs, Gordon Kegakilwe, also died from the virus. And in July, the ANC’s KwaZulu-Natal spokesperson, Ricardo Mthembu; Buffalo City mayor Alfred Mtsi; Langeberg mayor Henry Jansen; and MP Zamuxolo Peter all succumbed to it.

Covid-19 has also claimed the lives of a number of traditional leaders, sportsmen and women, scientists and creatives, though.

Gita Ramjee – the chief specialist scientist and director of the HIV Prevention Research Unit at the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC) – died from the virus in March and Elsa Joubert – who wrote The Long Journey of Poppie Nongena – in June.

In July, Queen Noloyiso Sandile – the late AmaRharhabe King Maxhoba Sandile’s wife – also died after having contracted Covid-19, as did former Springboks player Corra Dirksen; struggle stalwart Thomas Manthata; Eastern Cape High Court Judge Patrick Jaji; former president Nelson Mandela’s daughter, Zindzi Mandela; and casting director Moonyen Lee, who worked on international films including Tsotsi and Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom.

“Strong” response saved lives

The current death toll, however, is far lower than the 40 000 deaths that were at one stage predicted to have occurred by now.

And health researcher Dr Shakira Choonara said on Tuesday that the South African public health response had been a strong one.

She said even in comparison to developed nations, South Africa had largely been spared.

Read more: Lockdown saved lives – experts agree

“And within the BRICS category, which SA is part of, we are well below the number of deaths in both India and Brazil,” she said.

But she also pointed out this was “quite a rough comparison” and said there were gaps in the data currently available as highlighted by the World Health Organisation recently.

The virus represents but one pandemic that has ravaged South Africa over the course of the last nine months, with gender-based violence and femicide another.

Read more: Not just ‘a bad flu’ – Covid-19 survivors still battling months later

GBV’s unwelcome contribution

According to the police’s latest crime statistics for the first and second quarter of the current financial year, there were at least 23 rape-related murders between April and September and a total of 274 domestic violence-related murders over the same period.

One of the latter was that of 28-year-old Tshegofatso Pule, who was found stabbed to death and hanging from a tree in a veld in Roodepoort in June. Pule was eight months pregnant at the time. That same month, though, 25-year-old Naledi Phangindawo was also murdered in Mossel Bay and 27-year-old Altecia Kortjie and her 7-year-old daughter, Raynecia, in Cape Town.

The co-executive director at Sonke Gender Justice, Bafana Khumalo, said on Tuesday that the levels of violence against women and children in South Africa were unacceptable.

He said most cases never made the newspapers.

“But for those of us in the GBV sector, we see it every day,” he said.

Khumalo said while there were gaps in the criminal justice system which needed closing, tackling the scourge began at home.

“The challenge we are facing is with the high levels of patriarchy and what we describe as ‘toxic masculinity’ in South Africa,” he said. “And so we need to focus on changing our mindsets as men and on how we are raising our boy children and what we are teaching them at school.”

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