COVID-19: First Langa resident to test positive reflects on COVID-19 and quarantine
Nosisi Jacobs cuts a lonely figure as she stands in the sun outside her three roomed house in Langa, Cape Town.
There are curious stares from neighbours as we park outside.
That’s possibly because Jacobs has been the talk of the community ever since she tested positive for COVID-19. Jacobs was the first person in Langa, Cape Town’s oldest township, who contracted the disease. Speaking to Spotlight at her home, Jacobs says it was on May 27 when she got “funny symptoms that pointed to this virus”.
“[I had] continuous flu, headaches and backaches. They became so unbearable that I had no choice but to consult a doctor,” she says.
Jacobs says it is difficult to determine how she got infected. “We live in a township where you engage with different people every day,” she says.
She went to the Langa Community Health Care Centre where, after being screened, nurses told her she would have to get admitted as her temperature reading was too high.
Jacobs says she was tested for COVID-19 and the test came back positive.
“My world came down crashing. This was, after all, the virus that everyone had been too scared to contract. Death is the only thing that rings in your mind when you hear you’ve been infected by a deadly virus. At that time, with little information about coping mechanisms, you just see no way out,” she says holding her head in her hands.
Talking openly about her condition didn’t go down well with many in the community. Jacobs says she was ridiculed to a point where people puked (threw up) when they walked past her house.
The mother of three was asked to self-isolate for 14 days, but she asked if she could stay at an isolation facility the Western Cape government provides for those unable to isolate at home. Jacobs says she did not want the added stress of stigma about the disease in her community.
She was isolated at the Lagoon Beach facility in Milnerton with two of her children.
Jacobs describes the experience as a challenging one but she says she fought hard for the sake of her children.
“Sitting in that bed and knowing that I didn’t bring this virus to myself really hurts. But I had to be strong for my kids. Fortunately all my children tested negative for the virus,” she says.
Life under quarantine
Life under quarantine wasn’t as bad as she imagined it would be, says Jacobs. She says she thought it would be “like a refugee centre” where people would push and shove as COVID-19 patients line up to get medication or food. But that was not the case. Jacobs says she and the other patients received healthy meals every day.
“We ate lots of vegetables and fruits every day. It was a healthy diet,” she says.
To pass the time under quarantine Jacobs says she watched TV and slept a lot. “There is nothing much to do,” she says. “I started praying a lot, but I was grateful for the great care and the chance to live.”
“a passing disease”
Having lived in Langa all her life, Jacobs says one never expects to catch “such a deadly disease”. When COVID-19 hit the country, she remembers laughing it off as a “passing disease”. “To be honest, I never knew it would affect us, especially me. We were told that this is a Chinese virus,” she says.
Jacobs recalls how people ridiculed her after news spread that she had tested positive for the virus.
“It was like I had invited this disease, not only to myself but to the entire community,” she says fighting back tears. But despite suffering this stigma, Jacobs is determined to empower the community and showing people it can be overcome.
“People see this as the new HIV, but it’s not. It’s just a virus that anyone can contract and overcome. I am living testimony to that,” she says.
She believes in the health regulations such as wearing a mask, sanitising continuously and maintaining social distance. “But it is difficult to do all those things here. The mere knock on the door and an exchange of handshakes means you are exposed to infection,” she says.
Jacobs says people often see the virus as a punishment that prevents them from living their normal lives. For instance, she says, people often murmur about how “this Corona has prevented us from our drinks and smokes”.
But she is grateful for the government’s efforts to prevent the spread of the virus, says Jacobs.
Seeing her recovery inspired some of her neighbours to learn more about the virus.
“It came to us as a killer disease and when we heard that she had tested positive we were terrified. Now that she came back healthy and strong, we can see that it is a beatable disease,” a neighbour told Spotlight.
Despite all the warnings about wearing masks, many Langa residents continue to go about their daily business without masks.
Just a stone’s throw from Jacobs’ house residents crowd and shop at spaza shops and other informal businesses evidently oblivious to lockdown rules.
“Unfortunately, some people still think this is a joke,” Jacobs says. “Until it hits closer to home, then you know and are able to take precautionary measures.”
With the number of infections rising daily in the Western Cape, Jacobs wants to play her part in spreading a positive message.
Despite Langa not falling under Cape Town’s hotspots such as Tygerberg and Khayelitsha, Jacobs believes if people do not change their behaviour, Langa might soon become another hotspot area.
Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize has warned that South Africa will see a spike in positive cases as lockdown restrictions are eased. By 23 June, the number of confirmed cases in the Western Cape had risen to 53 512. Jacobs is among the 37 234 people in the province who have so far recovered after testing positive for COVID-19.
“People need to follow the rules and regulations as set out by government. If I can beat it, so can everyone else,” Jacobs says.
When Spotlight asked her what she looks forward to doing now that she has recovered, Jacobs pauses for a moment.
“To be honest, I am not really sure. That’s because prior to contracting this virus I was jobless. So, it’s not like there is a job I’m looking at returning to right now. I am just grateful for the good health and spending quality time with my children,” she says.
She plans on still visiting the Langa clinic “once in a while” for check-ups.
“If there is one thing that contracting this virus has taught me, it’s that you only live once. From now on I have vowed to take precautionary measures, now that I’ve been armed with knowledge. I am not just doing it for the sake of my children,” she says, “but also for other people who still see COVID-19 as a joke. It is real, and it kills. I am a living statistic.”