Botswana’s suspected COVID-19 zero patient, a 79-year-old Ramotswa woman’s dying wish was to be buried in her backyard. Relatives rolled their sleeves and broke their backs to grant her last wish. Midway through digging the grave and preparing for the funeral, government officials rocked up and stopped everything.
The grieving family was home burials had been suspended, so they could not grant their matriarch her final wish. Between reeling from the anxiety and frustration of not being able to honor their mothers last wish and running around to find a last-minute alternative burial site, they were told they would not be able to say a final goodbye to their mother.The old woman could not be buried in her finest and favourite clothes. Instead it was the grim anonymity of a hospital gown. Her corpse was sealed away and the family was told they could not see it one last time before it was interred. And this was the beginning of a long and dark chapter that the family wants to forget. They had been told their matriarch had tested negative to coronavirus.
Her birth certificate signed by Dr Ramotlhwa cited the cause of death as “respiratory distress and hypertension.”The family used their funeral insurance policy with Babereki ka Lerato to keep the corpse at their mortuary before burial. While the family was still running around with funeral arrangements, they were informed that Babereki Ka Lerato had evicted their mother’s corps from their mortuary and dumped it at Bamalete Lutheran Hospital. Babereki Ka Lerato claimed the old woman had died under quarantine and was a COVID-19 suspect.The corpse was left out in the open for sometime while plans were being made to accommodate it at the government mortuary.
On the eve of the burial, the corpse was “disinfected” and sealed away in a mortuary bag before being sent bag to Babereki Ka Lerato to place in a casket. Indications are that there was communication break-down between the Babereki Ka Lerato and the government mortuary. Babereki Ka Lerato mortuary attendants took the corpse out of the transparent mortuary back and destroyed it as they prepared the corpse for burial. Both mortuaries had ran out of transparent mortuary bags, so health officials decided that the casket should not be opened to avoid transmission. While still trying to come to terms with the whole issue, then there was the stigma from the community.
One of the old woman’s daughter who was struggling with schizophrenia broke down, could not be part of the funeral process and had to be rushed to Sebrana Mental Hospital in Lobatse. Psychiatric doctors at the mental hospital would not admit her for fear that she may be infected. She was sent back without being treated and her son who had taken her to the mental hospital was told to book himself for institutional quarantine. When they got to Gaborone, the young man was quarantined at Grand Area hotel in Gaborone, while her psychotic mother was let alone to her devices.
Hospital authorities promised to keep an eye on her, but only visited her once during the 14 days that her son was kept in isolation.While waiting to be booked it at Grand Area, the young man tried to strike a conversation with Botswana Defence Force officers who were stationed at the hotel. His overture was met by rude rebukes from the soldiers who told him to stay away from them. Even some health officials treated him like a leaper.Like the rest of the country, the grieving family does not know if their mother died from coronavirus or not, and a hoping government will help them with closure. For now, they are living one day at a time, and learning to live with the stigma on the go.