When Covid-19 rips a family apart, only tears follow

30 April 2020 - 13:12
By Soyiso Maliti
 Mzimkhulu Mfama lost his wife of more than 30 years to Covid-19 and officials took away his two grandchildren, who are also infected.
Image: Jozef Polc/123rf.com Mzimkhulu Mfama lost his wife of more than 30 years to Covid-19 and officials took away his two grandchildren, who are also infected.

The coronavirus can be as heartbreaking as it is deadly. No-one knows that better 80-year-old Mzimkhulu Mfama, who this week lost his wife of more than 30 years to Covid-19.

Ntomboxolo Mfama, 69, died at Grey Hospital in King William’s Town on Tuesday, leaving behind Mzimkhulu who himself is battling to overcome the effects of the virus.  

Compounding the already tragic situation is that the widower’s grandchildren, aged five and 13, have been taken away by government officials. They, too, have Covid-19.

Mzimkhulu’s loss is matched only by his loneliness.

According to family members, the Mfamas became infected with Covid-19 after Ntomboxolo consulted popular King William’s Town doctor Sizwe Mxenge, who tested positive for the virus in mid-April.

Mxenge, who has since recovered, told DispatchLIVE on Wednesday that he had been informed of his patient’s death. 

“I heard about it and it was very sad to hear that news,” he said.

However, he was saddened that some people were trying to shift the blame on to him, suggesting Ntomboxolo could have been infected at his surgery.

“I told them we cannot conclude that they were infected at the surgery. She could have been the source of infection.

“The reason I went public about this matter ... was for patients to know that one of them had infected me, to encourage them to be safe and to get tested.

“I was honest and genuine from the beginning. I only realised when I fell ill that I had [been infected],” Mxenge said.

He said he had worn all the recommended protective gear when he attended to the woman, and that he could have been infected by any of his patients.

Ntomboxolo was admitted to Grey Hospital on Sunday — a few days after the family learnt they had tested positive for the virus.

Both husband and wife had comorbidities, or additional conditions, but had been told to quarantine at home.

A coughing Mzimkhulu told DispatchLIVE he feared what his own fate could be, but he needed to stay at home in Mamata village near Dimbaza to take care of his wife’s funeral arrangements.

Mzimkhulu said “some officials” had visited their home on Wednesday morning and left with his two grandchildren.

Akukhonto intle [Nothing is OK]. I am alone in our house now. Nobody is coming to the house now. I refuse to leave because I have things to take care of,” he said. “If they take me in for a short stay I will go, but if it’s prolonged I won’t go.” 

Ntuthuzelo Eugene Mfaka, Ntomboxolo’s devastated nephew, said he was  “disturbed” by the health department’s handling of his family’s situation.

Mfaka said the government’s awareness campaigns were “limited to the English language”. 

He said even before his aunt’s death, he had been using social media to call on the government to hold its briefings in indigenous languages.

“I could not sleep yesterday [Tuesday]. He [Mzimkhulu] has many other sicknesses. These people [health department] are negligent.

“People with Covid-19 are dying. Where is this readiness that the provincial government is talking about? This is a study case. Everyone in that village came and went to see him.

“At Grey Hospital they’re not ready for Covid-19.”

Provincial health department spokesperson Sizwe Kupelo had not responded to queries at the time of writing.