Covid-19 Heroes Editor’s Choice

Ndlovu Youth Choir

Choir

The Ndlovu Youth Choir delighted and united millions of South Africans and made the country proud when they did so well on the TV show America’s Got Talent. They’d already won countless fans with their isiZulu version of Ed Sheeran’s Shape of You, accompanied by flautist Wouter Kellerman.

Now they are using their popularity to address the serious issue of Covid-19, recording a song called We’ve Got This in isiZulu and English. It is a fun way to deliver vital facts about limiting the spread of the disease in areas where information is scarce, such as their village of Moutse in Limpopo.

“The idea was to avoid the stigmatisation and panic and false narratives that were associated with the HIV pandemic, and learn from that,” says choir director and co-founder, Ralf Schmitt.

The Ndlovu Youth Choir gives talented but underprivileged young people a purpose, a chance to shine and to escape the poverty around them. They remained active during the lockdown, presenting concerts for bookings from around the world through live-streaming, while strictly obeying regulations aimed at limiting the spread of Covid-19.

“We’ve tried to be innovative and reinvent ourselves to ride out the storm,” Schmitt says. “We’re human and we all want to connect, but we’re role models to young people so we can’t go around breaking the guidelines.”

For Mandela Day on July 18 they presented a 67-minute live-streamed performance for charity and launched their new single, We Will Rise. “The song is to encourage people to keep going, and there’s no better time to launch it than on Mandela Day,” Schmitt says.

Author - Lesley Stones
Ahren Posthumus, 24

Ahren Posthumus, 24

Cyber security specialist and co-founder of tech start-ups
Lockdown Bozza, Jobmatcher

At just 24, Ahren Posthumus is the co-founder of two tech platforms changing millions of lives.

Posthumus co-founded Jobmatcher, an app that matches jobseekers with ad-hoc work. His Lockdown Bozza app, which breaks down what you can and can’t do during the lockdown by location, is being used by over 1.5 million South Africans. The tech whiz is in talks with the Covid-19 National Command Council and the Presidential Office to help him expand the reach of this app. The UK government has also approached him to develop a similar app for Britain.

Posthumus says since he was young he felt like he was meant to do something great, and has realised that every individual has this potential. That something is just different for each individual.

Posthumus believes he inherited his entrepreneurial streak from his mother, and is most proud of the moment he signed the papers to buy his mother her own home. His mother is his hero and showed him what hard work is, persevering through tough economic circumstances. While no gift could never honour her in the way she deserves, it makes him proud to have been able to give back to someone who sacrificed so much for his own happiness, education and wellbeing.

Asked to extend advice to others, Posthumus says not to look down on South Africa as a developing economy. While the country has many problems, we also have unlimited and untapped potential. If you want to contribute meaningfully to this world, he says, with solutions to problems that can meaningfully impact peoples’ lives, then this is a great place to be.

“I would like to continue being a South African solving South African issues to help bring better value, prosperity and innovation to the lives of other South Africans,” Posthumus says.

Shaazia Ebrahim | mg.co.za
Petri Redelinghuys, 35

Petri Redelinghuys, 35

Founder
Say Siyabonga & Herenya Capital Advisors

Seeing things work motivates Petri Redelinghuys, founder of the local business platform Say Siyabonga. It was created to save local businesses during the Covid-19 pandemic by buying and selling vouchers for goods and services from them.

Say Siyabonga is morphing into a multi-vendor platform, because that is what the businesses that have signed up for it are using it for. Supporting small businesses inspires Redelinghuys. He is encouraged by the way people are embracing the change foisted on them by a global disaster, and creating opportunities from that change.

What surprises Redelinghuys every day is the good nature of people, and how no matter how tough things get or how desperate they might seem, people look out for each other, stick together and care. Redelinghuys enjoys the idea of community. More and more, the world is changing and people are becoming more aware of the effect they have on it. “If businesses, which are ultimately made up of people, focus on how they can improve the lives of the communities around them, we are in for a very exciting future,” he says.

Organisations today need to add real tangible value to the people that are using their products or services or risk not surviving.

“When the business prospers, the community prospers. When community prospers, the business prospers,” he says.

As for his proudest moment, Redelinghuys is still working for it. Redelinghuys hopes to build an organisation that measurably improves the lives of everyone involved with or connected to it.

Watch this space.

Shaazia Ebrahim | mg.co.za
Vukosi Marivate, 34

Vukosi Marivate, 34

Data scientist

Covid-19 facts and figures have become a global preoccupation as the virus turns lives upside down. Finding reliable local statistics was difficult, so Dr Vukosi Marivate created a detailed database collating Covid-19 data and analysing it in dozens of useful ways.

Marivate is the chair of Data Science at Pretoria University and the principal investigator at its Data Science for Social Impact Research Group (DSFSI) turns copious data into useful facts for actions based on solid analysis.

The DSFSI’s dashboard is an open resource that gives the full picture of Covid-19 in South Africa using current data from the Department of Health and National Institute for Communicable Diseases [NICD].

“What the dashboard and data repository does is provide one place where all the necessary information is available to the public and scientists, and it’s continuously updated, which is especially important for those in the health sector who need to make decisions by the hour,” he says. “Without this information, we don’t know where we should be putting resources or offering support.”

The site still doesn’t show all the information he’d like to present, such as reporting how many beds are still available in each hospital and the number of specialists working there. The government doesn’t make some figures public, but he’s working to change official opinion, arguing that facts can prevent people panicking by preventing rumours from circulating.

Marivate holds a PhD in computer science and is a specialist in data science, natural language processing, and using machine learning and artificial intelligence to extract insights from data. Before the pandemic struck, he’d worked on projects using data to guide the social effect of decisions made regarding energy, public safety and utilities.

Lesley Stones | mg.co.za
Edwin Leballo, 32

Edwin Leballo, 32

Founder / Deputy Chairman
Professional Association of Clinical Associates of South Africa (PACASA)

Edwin Leballo is the founder of the Professional Association of Clinical Associates of South Africa (PACASA), a formal representative body for members of this relatively new and incredibly important profession. Clinical associates are a uniquely South African facet of the healthcare industry; mid-level medical professionals who support physicians in assessing patients, prescribing treatments, and even performing minor surgeries. When Edwin created the association in 2012, he aimed to build something that could support clinical associates as well as the communities they serve. This foundation and the organisational structures put in place would help many but would serve an ever greater purpose yet.

As Covid-19 arrived on South African shores, countless citizens were afraid and unsure of what the future held, Edwin included. “Like many others, Covid-19 caught us unprepared and I had to work hard to prepare myself, mentally and physically, to stay focused and ready for the unknown.,” he says.

“My role had to change and I now had to assist in mobilising and recruiting more Clinical Associates for institutions and areas in need of health care workers. I also had to avail myself for clinical associates who were starting to be affected and infected by COVID-19.”

Edwin found his responsibilities within PACASA rapidly altered, and he had to adopt a new outlook in order to best support his fellow clinical associates. “My role as the deputy chair changed into being a counsellor, motivational speaker, inspirer, recruiter, an advocate and a team builder for my fellow colleagues and their families,” he says. “I had to address many issues to keep us motivated, effective, helpful, safe and impactful at all times.”

Throughout this process, Edwin discovered that both medical professionals and their patients were under psychological duress as a result of this pandemic. People that he encounters in the course of day-to-day consultations, even those who haven’t contracted the virus, are increasingly anxious about their health and Edwin explains the ways in which this affects them negatively: “[They] don’t want to go back to work because they think they might contract the virus and bring it home to their family and loved ones. People are worried about losing their jobs, about their children falling behind with school work and their future plans, such as getting married or their child being born, being disrupted by COVID-19.” These myriad concerns are only amplified in isolation until they become so pent up they burst forth in the form of breakdowns or worse.

Edwin saw the toll this pandemic had taken on the collective psyche of the population and took it upon himself to push for counselling and mental health to be a part of the conversation occurring between government and medical institutions in regards to COVID-19. Internally, this meant PACASA hosting its own discussions, with clinical associates gathering on social media to discuss and decompress, allowing them to share experiences and insights with each other. Externally, this meant broaching the topic with the patients that clinical associates treat, as well as advocating for the cause using PACASA as a platform.

He admits there are stigmas stopping counselling from reaching more South Africans but hopes to reintroduce the concept and role of counselling to them in these trying times, hopefully changing views in the process. However, the first step remains the same, offering care to those in need. “Services need to be taken to be people,” he says. “Counselling is a very important tool in resolving many social ills that our country is struggling with. Counselling is interactive with many institutions such as social development, police, housing and even judiciary, if used appropriately we will see its true value and outcome.”

James Nash | mg.co.za
Dr Lionel de Gouveia, 32

Dr Lionel de Gouveia, 32

Medical doctor

The staff of the small, rural Manguzi Hospital near Kosi Bay in KwaZulu-Natal has become skilled in caring for Covid-19 patients, thanks to dedicated professionals such as Dr Lionel de Gouveia.

It received its first case of the virus in March, when De Gouveia was already planning and implementing its pandemic response strategy. “I had to write the protocols for the nurses and clinics because the concept of a pandemic was strange to them,” he says. Manguzi suffers the usual problems afflicting rural hospitals, but it was well equipped with protective equipment, as it was already the district’s specialist isolation centre for diseases such as Ebola.

De Gouveia arrived for his community service year in 2015 and never left. “I’m very paediatric-centred, so you grow up with these children and become part of the family,” he says.

He’s a Grade 1 Medical Officer with additional diplomas in Paediatrics, HIV and Family Medicine. He was already taking a diploma in Tropical Medicine when Covid-19 struck. “Now the thing I’m studying is the thing I’m dealing with every day,” he says.

De Gouveia expanded the hospital’s four-bed isolation unit to include 24 adult beds, 20 beds for patients under investigation and eight paediatric isolation beds.

He also ensured the medical teams were trained to screen, test and manage Covid-19 patients and implemented proper record keeping for test results and contact tracing. He worked with community testing teams to test, teach and allay anxiety, and is a constant source of up-to-date information.

His responsibilities also include manning the Respiratory/Fever Clinic, overseeing suspected and positive Covid-19 patients, and liaising with the National Institute for Communicable Diseases and other hospitals that refer Covid-19 patients to Manguzi.

His mother is a microbiologist managing a Covid-19 laboratory at the NCID, so medical expertise runs in the family.

Lesley Stones | mg.co.za
Angela Hartwig, 34

Angela Hartwig, 34

Medical doctor

During the early stages of the Covid-19 pandemic, Angela Hartwig was the only doctor on duty at Adelaide Hospital in the Eastern Cape. Though pregnant, she continued to treat patients and assist nurses — giving direction from afar, even after she tested positive for the virus — shortly before she gave birth. Now on maternity leave, she is very much still present, assisting telephonically wherever she can. Her most memorable moment over this period? When the hospital staff came to stand outside her window with a message of support after she tested positive. Throughout this period, Angela was also working tirelessly behind the scenes: preparing the hospital for patients, attempting to mitigate the spread within the clinic, as well as educating and motivating the hospital staff to help them cope during these difficult times.

“I want to not only inspire but empower people to bring change to their workplaces and communities, to know that everyone doing their part together can make a difference.”

If her tenacity over the past few months hasn’t left you feeling misty-eyed, perhaps her words of advice in the midst of trying times will. “Don’t let yourself become frustrated by things out of your control: you may not be able to change the circumstances around you, but work to make a difference in the areas you can control. Do what you can with what you have, do it with joy, and don’t feel bad about what you can’t do.”

Rosie Goddard | mg.co.za
Nomhle Ngwenya, 23

Nomhle Ngwenya, 23

PhD candidate
University of Witwatersrand

Nomhle Ngwenya, a PhD candidate at the University of Witwatersrand, already knows how she wants to change the world. Since the start of Covid-19, she’s become interested in the negative economic effect of the pandemic on African countries.

Since the start of Covid-19, she’s become interested in how the pandemic has been affecting countries in Africa given their weak healthcare systems and constrained budgets, as well as the vulnerabilities of people caused by socioeconomic problems such as inequality and unemployment — funding that finances projects that benefit the environment — as a tool to stimulate the economy, create jobs and counter environmental damage that affects everyone. This has already taken off in Europe where green bonds are stimulating the economies through investments made in renewable energy and other climate-related projects.

Ngwenya’s work has been published in two journals this year. “There’s so much more to do, be and discover. Inventions and breakthroughs are at the tip of our fingers. Everyone is one idea away from making a difference,” she says. Ambition and curiosity keep her motivated, and aligning her passions with her values makes her “unstoppable”.

About the legacy she’d like to leave, Nomhle says: “I want to have a generational impact where through my hard work and determination I leave a legacy of difference. This could be having created a platform where more black females are inspired to be in STEM [science, technology, engineering and maths] research and careers but also being part of innovative solutions to leveraging Africa to be the superpower it so rightly deserves to be.”

Rosie Goddard | mg.co.za