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BY AFP,16TH JULY,2020-Zindzi Mandela, youngest daughter of former South African President Nelson Mandela and anti-apartheid activist Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, tested positive for Covid-19 the day she died.
This fact, widely known informally but initially not confirmed, was made public by the Mandela family as the Covid storm engulfing the country threatened to close schools again – perhaps for the rest of the academic year.
The confirmation that she tested positive on the last day of her life came in spite of the Mandela family’s aversion to discussing their members’ health in public, a practice which arose in the final years of Madiba’s life when there was much speculation over his health.
Ms Mandela, who was the country’s Ambassador to Denmark, died in a Johannesburg hospital in the early hours of Monday morning, aged 59.
“Simply by virtue that there was a positive test, we are therefore obligated to function and work within the framework of the existing regulations related to such cases,” her son Zondwa Mandela said.
She will be buried on Friday.
The task force appointed by President Cyril Ramaphosa to deal with the pandemic has admitted that there have been hundreds of incidents among SA’s 26,000 schools but insists that these were “only a small percentage” and that, in many cases, schools were re-opened after a few days and deep cleansing.
But teachers and many parents are still not happy.
The ruling African National Congress (ANC) party’s union ally, the SA Democratic Teacher’s Union (SADTU), has previously said that it would pull all its members from classes if re-opening proved unsafe.
With at least seven students dead due to Covid-19 infections that are likely to have taken place in re-opened schools, and at least dozens – likely hundreds – of teachers either severely affected or dead, almost all teacher representative bodies now want to stop classroom learning immediately.
Some unions have pointed to the example of Kenya which cancelled the 2020 academic year, saying that the risks of proceeding with even a stripped-down school year are just too great.
A significant number of parents agree and in some areas where the virus is raging strongly, students are being kept at home to protect them and their families.
The matter has been under hot debate as some education authorities, along with the Ramaphosa administration, were saying that there had to be some sort of school year pushed through.
But after SADTU decided earlier this week to take the issue back to the authorities, backed by other major teacher representative bodies, President Ramaphosa said today (Thursday) that he and his team were willing to reconsider the matter.
The seriousness of the situation is underlined by a major problem in slowing or halting the spread of the virus in South Africa, which is the bottleneck of getting Covid test results in ‘reasonable’ time.
Currently, tests are taking up to 7 days to return results, meaning that the real incidence of Covid-19 in re-opened school communities could run into thousands.
So far, South Africa has done extraordinarily well, compared to most of Europe, and even better compared to the USA, when it has come to slowing the initial spread of the virus and reducing its impact, especially deaths.
With known infections running at over 311,000, South Africa has had 4,453 known Covid deaths, though medical statisticians point out that “excess deaths”, showing up at over 7,000, are also likely Covid-related.
In comparison, Spain with over 258,000 known cases has had almost 28,500 deaths.
Increasing pressure on South Africa’s stretched-to-the-limit health capacity is now putting that relatively good performance of keeping deaths down under question.
More emergency field hospitals are being erected in or near high-density areas as the virus grip tightens.
The country’s peak is expected between late July through the middle of September as the rolling wave of infections spreads to all communities, even the most rural and remote.