HEROES 2: Auntie Nellie – first of the heroic deaths of our health workers

Toby Shapshak

Nursing sister Petronella Benjamin was known as “Aunty Nellie” to all her colleagues and patients at the Cape Town Reproductive Clinic in the Golden Acre.

As the first health worker to die in April from Covid-19, the Western Cape nurse’s name is now known to the whole country. 

The most heartbreaking thing is that the 62-year-old succumbed to Covid just one day before she was due to retire, on 29 April.

As the global pandemic struck South Africa in March, Benjamin caught flu and bronchitis. But when her Covid-19 test was negative, she went back to work after just two weeks of recuperation. 

Her son Marvin Benjamin said the family begged her not to go back to work.

“We told her not to go to work but to rather stay at home because she was almost close to retirement,” he told eNCA at the time. “She told us she wanted to say goodbye to her clients and to her colleagues… and that her work was not finished. That is what she told us, that she needs to complete her career the right way.” 

Auntie Nellie’s heroism and her life-long commitment to looking after people is why we’ve chosen her as the symbol of all the brave healthcare workers who put their lives on the line for all of us.

As her son said: “After her death, a lot of people contacted us and told us they actually came to her not just for treatment, because my mom used to work in town at the family planning clinic, but my mom always used to pray for the people, motivated them and did counselling.”