Bo-Kaap lawyer’s Covid-19 experience

Seehaam Semaai

Bo-Kaap resident and director of the Women’s Legal Centre, Seeham Samaai, has recovered from Covid-19.

The 44-year-old human rights activist said she is not sure how she contracted the virus but in the week leading up to feeling her first symptoms of the coronavirus, she was still consulting with women in different areas of Cape Town.

She said they had also had a court case to deal with and she had had affidavits to sign.

She recalls being anxious and scared when she tested positive.

“While I knew Covid-19 was happening, I didn’t think that it would happen to me. My first responsibility was also to the many women whom we serve and to be honest, I didn’t think much further than this.”

Ms Samaai said her colleague called her and said she was not feeling well and would have to be tested for Covid-19.

“After the phone call, I sat down and thought that it would mean for me to get tested. I panicked because I have comorbidities in that I’m asthmatic, and suffer from chronic hypertension.”

She said what was even more concerning for her was that she could’ve infected both her 15-year-old daughter who lives with her and her 67-year-old father who had been fixing up her house every day.

She said due to his health and age, her father was extremely high risk, having been hospitalised not too long ago for a heart condition.

“I sat with regret, remorse and also high anxiety for the two days waiting for my test results but by then also my throat had started to feel scratchy, I was developing a fever and was at the early stages of lethargy and lots of fatigue.”

She said she was in quarantine for a month and when she contracted the virus, it was still early days and not much was known except that many people were dying from it.

Taking us through weeks of being in quarantine, Ms Samaai said the first picture that came into her head was that of the air hostess advising people before take off on a plane about safety in the case of a crash. The message is to see to yourself first.

“You can’t save others if you don’t save yourself first. So self-preservation was my priority, to ensure I stay alive and build my mental and psychological resilience.”

Ms Samaai suffered numerous symptoms.

“I had headaches, extreme fatigue and an upper respiratory infection. There was also the loss of taste and smell and while this may be such a small thing to lose, it does show how important the senses are because I really felt lost without it. Up till today my taste and smell have still not fully come back.”

She also turned to home remedies such as drinking water infused with lemon, cayenne pepper, ginger and turmeric, and “wilde als”.

She said she was told exercise was important so she did yoga, meditation and stretches as often as she could.

“Occasionally I would take Panado. The other remedy I used was onions which I placed on my chest and it reminded me of when I was young, when my mom would do this because I was asthmatic. So all in all, I turned to a homeopathic way of healing,” she said.

Sharing the lessons she learnt from her experience, Ms Samaai said the virus forces you to rest, to reflect on your lifestyle, and to look at how you can change it for the better.

She said the spread of the virus further confirmed the huge socio-economic inequalities within our communities.

“Women have been disproportionately impacted by these challenges and what we’ve also seen is that women are the ones that are carrying the nation and carrying the communities that we are coming from. Most of the frontline staff and workers are women, farmworkers, domestic workers, cashiers. The strength and the power of our nation is because of our women,” she said.

She said the government had not properly consulted with women, people on the ground, social justice activists, organisations and particularly womens’ rights organisations who are at the coal face of this pandemic.

“We’re seeing women losing their jobs and are faced with the burden of carrying their families with no income. Government’s response falls short of a feminist and gendered response. It falls short from a human rights response and I also think it falls short from a constitutional response,” she said.

Ms Samaai’s advice to families who are going through this difficult time, is that they read information that is verified because there’s a lot of false information out there.

“I had to make a conscious decision to remove myself from social media and just the media in general because of the misinformation and how it then played on my mind and created anxiety.

“I encourage people to adhere to the rules that have been set down, don’t gather in groups of people, especially families and friends. Maintain a safe distance, keep washing your hands, wearing a mask and do whatever the health professionals advise you to do.”

On Tuesday July 21, the Western Cape had 84 340 confirmed cases of Covid-19, 2 654 deaths and 70 061 recoveries.