As the death toll from Covid-19 hits private homes and institutions, social distancing rules mean patients are denied visitors in their final hours and families cannot congregate in person at funerals and memorials to bury their dead and mourn.
The University of Namibia (Unam), which has recently been hard hit with several deaths among its workforce and student community, on Wednesday held a drive-by memorial in honour of their staff and students who succumbed due to the deadly coronavirus.
Unam spokesperson John Haufiku yesterday said the Unam flag was flown half-mast on Wednesday, a sign of mourning and a tribute to 11 departed colleagues and five students the institution lost largely due to Covid-19.
“The university has always been a tight-knit community, with many staff serving well beyond 15 years, while many students return for further study or eventually become staff. As a consequence, death has, therefore, always been met with internal mourning traditions,” said Haufiku.
“However, due to Covid-19 regulations and the continued threat of the virus itself, conventional memorials could not be held, and the community was thrust into a state of gloom and sadness. This drive-by vigil was an idea by management to allow staff some kind of closure to the terrible losses the university has endured.”
Unam vice chancellor Kenneth Matengu directed last week for a drive-by vigil to be held, saying “we cannot let fear win, no matter the circumstance; we should allow our humanity to prevail, albeit safely”.
Senior members of management stood 10 metres apart, as staff, students and family members of the departed slowly drove by the memorial site, a stone’s throw from the main administration building, placing flowers next to the displayed pictures of their departed, colleagues, friends or family.
Namibia is no exception to enforced social distance rules during a time of traditional togetherness, denying grieving people the physical comfort of a hug, a shoulder to cry on and a sense of finality that is part of the grieving process when someone close has died.
The drive-through memorial and funerals are the latest in a series of innovations forced upon communities decimated by Covid-19.
Haufiku said the university continues to operate remotely, with only essential services staff being on campus.
Unam, in partnership with the health ministry and Cardiff University, has been running a vaccination campaign over the last seven weeks.
Haufiku stated most of Unam’s senior management were among the first to receive the vaccination to encourage all Namibians to get their shot.
The School of Health Sciences continues to conduct testing on the virus as well as data collection for research under the stewardship of Dr Immanuel Nepolo.
“Dr Nepolo is busy with data collection to determine whether the Indian Delta variant is here,” Haufiku said.
Among students who recently died as a result of Covid-19 and other causes are Sibongile Taonga Chibunga, Ndehihafela Diina Halwoodi, Jariroviso Virere, Pumla Mzinyati and Kanyanga Mukuve.
Departed staff members include Chibola Chikwililwa, Ronald Gariseb, Werner Jeffery, Andrew Möwes, Mirjam Kaluvi, Godfrey Dombo, Jefta Ngavetene, Emma Scheepers, Gerhardus Mouers and Nelson Kajau.
Unam has recorded 60 new Covid-19 cases from 19 to 25 June 2021.
Of these, 28 are staff, and 32 cases are students. During this time, there were 67 active cases and 396 recovered cases were reported.