The shame behind the silent spread of Covid

Everson Luhanga

Senzani Ngoma is a cleaner at Sunninghill Hospital.

After testing positive for Covid-19, Senzani was sent home to self-quarantine in her one-room shack where she stays with her son in Diepsloot.

She shares her story about what happened to her:

•          I was asked to clean a room where there was a Covid-19 patient

•          Two days later, I tested positive

•          I was asked to go home and report for work after two weeks

•          For those two weeks, I was told my salary would be cut because I didn’t come to work

While at home, she couldn’t stay in her shack all the time:

•          A community of about 150 people uses the same water tap that I use

•          We all use a communal outside toilet

•          I couldn’t stay in my one-room shack all the time because I didn’t have food

•          When I go out, people who are used to me would come near me, greet, and want to have a conversation with me

•          I could also go to the shops or spazas to get bread or milk

She says the stigma associated with being Covid-19 is high among people in townships. 

“I didn’t reveal to people that I tested positive. I feared being victimised and [becoming] the centre of gossip. So I only told my mother and I kept it to myself,” she said.

Several times when we tried to trace Senzani at her place of stay, Senzani was not at her shack. She was either at the mall or visiting friends and family.

Senzani says she fears many people in the township could be positive but they are too scared, like her, to speak out.

Pieter Louw, general manager of Netcare Sunninghill Hospital, said cleaners were recruited for Netcare by another company, but got the same training as staff on the use of PPE. He could not not comment on Senzani’s salary cut because she is employed by “an external service provider”.