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Bo-Kaap community devastated by first COVID-19 death

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By Tasneem Adams

The Bo Kaap community is reeling after the first Muslim in Cape Town died on Saturday as a result of the coronavirus. 81-year-old Kulsum Cassiem was hospitalised last week and placed in isolation at Christian Barnard hospital. According to a statement by Health Minister Zweli Mhkize, the elderly woman had presented symptoms of fever, shortness of breath, body pains, dry cough and sore throat. She also had additional conditions that included hypertension, diabetes and cholesterol.

Due to the risk of rapid infection, her burial took place in the early hours of Sunday morning, led by imam of the Awwal masjid in Dorp Street, Shaykh Ismail Londt. Speaking to VOC on Monday morning, Ebrahim Solomon, chairperson of the Western Cape Muslim Undertaker’s Forum said the janaza was a complex matter as protocols followed were different to normal janazas. The Islamic burial rites have to follow specific guidelines for COVID-19 deaths as set out by the national Department of Health.

“Aunty Kulsum passed away shortly after 6pm and I arrived shortly afterwards to assist with the documentation for her death. I only left the hospital after 11pm as it was a such a long, drawn-out process,” Solomon said.

One of the challenges, said Solomon, was that the deceased’s fingerprints could not be registered in the death registrar’s book, due to possible contamination.

“We then decided to use a separate sheet, take her fingerprint and put it into a sealed bag in the quarantine room. The hospital staff then dropped it in a seal bag in a clean area,” he explained.

From there, it was a race against time to contact Mowbray cemetery management to make a concession to allow for the burial after hours. Mowbray cemetery does not allow for burial after 5pm.

The mayyit (deceased body) was transported to the Taronga Road Masjid for the washing and shrouding, which was overseen by two trained ghasiellahs (toekamanies) of the Forum. The ghasiellas were required to wear personal protection equipment (PPE) in order to safeguard against possible infection of the virus. The deceased woman’s four sons were also present at the ghusl khana.

“The body was put in a sealed bag, then kaffaned (shrouded) and then placed in another sealed bag. We opened the face of the first body bag to allow the relatives to view the deceased. However, they could not touch her and had to view from a distance. It was very sad to see,” said Solomon.

Londt said all those attending the janazah had to wear protective gloves and masks and ensure social distancing of 1.5 meters. There were 13 people in attendance at the janazah, nine of them relatives. All attendee’s details had to be logged to ensure contact tracing can take place.

“Janazah salah was performed in the parking area. We then walked to the upper section of the Mowbray cemetery to lay her to rest. Everything had to be sanitised and checked,” Londt said.

The family is said to be in a deep state of mourning as many of them were unable to see her while she was in isolation. It’s believed one of the elderly woman’s sons had returned from travelling abroad before the lockdown and has been in self-quarantine for the past two weeks. He did not see his mother at all during this period.

“The family is struggling…it’s a difficult time for all of them. This is no ordinary situation, so the four brothers are taking it one day at a time,” said Masturah Adams of the Bo Kaap Community Covid-19 Task Team, a community group assisting COVID-19 patients and their families.


Community awareness
Bo-Kaap has two confirmed COVID-19 cases, including that of 73-year-old Mogamat Salie. The elderly patient is on the road to recovery and is in quarantine at home with his family.

The area has been identified as one of several communities which will undergo mass screening and testing for the virus. The Western Cape Department of Health started the roll-out of the programme on Monday. It’s unclear who will be prioritised, but field workers will conduct pre-screening measures to determine who will go for the actual COVID-19 test.

“There is a concern amongst the elderly residents, especially those who were in touch with her and know her. We hope that the health department can assess them first,” said Adams.

She hopes this testing programme would break the stigma around COVID-19 in the community.

“When the news broke of the first person to be tested for the coronavirus (Mogamat Salie) the family came forward and said we could go public with the information. The community immediately rallied behind the family and engaged in a virtual thikr and a khatam,” she enthused.

“By the time Aunty Kulsum went to hospital, there were fears that this would raise anxiety and panic. But Alhamdullilah, the community have been positive.”

The task team has been pro-active in assisting needy residents with warm meals and food parcels during the lockdown period, amid the concern that many Bo-Kaap households are without an income.

To support the Bo Kaap Community Covid-19 Task Team, contact Masturah on 083 286 2480 or Shafwaan on 084 836 8105. VOC

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