The Covid-19 suicides

David Bullard writes on the recent deaths of three friends and acquaintances


Ten days before Christmas a good friend of mine decided to end his life. I had lunched with him the previous month and all seemed fine. Like most of us he was frustrated by the seemingly endless lockdown, his inability to travel to visit family overseas and the fact that there seemed no end in sight.

On the whole though we had a jolly lunch with a decent bottle of wine, lots of laughs and much eye rolling at the antics of our politicians. I dropped him off at his house, wished him well for Christmas and made a vague arrangement for a follow up lunch in January. That was the last I ever saw of him.

On the morning in question he had made coffee for his son and daughter in law, hugged his wife and told her he loved her and then sauntered into the garage. A few minutes later the family heard a loud noise and assumed that something heavy had been dropped. His son went into the garage to look for his father but found nothing.

The family members went into the garden to see if he was there but it wasn’t until his son went back into the garage for a closer inspection that he saw his father’s motionless legs behind one of the family cars. He had shot himself with a gun that he kept in a safe in the garage.

One’s immediate reaction to this sort of news is disbelief. How could this possibly be? My reaction was one of anger. Why on earth didn’t he phone me for a beer if he was feeling low? Then all sorts of self blame follows with the inevitable ‘we should have been more alert to the signs’.

In fact, he had been suffering from depression for some time and his general practitioner had put him on anti-depressants which hadn’t seemed to help. He was already being treated for depression when we had lunch but like so many sufferers had managed to put on a happy face that day and conceal the swirling anguish within.

On the day he shot himself he was due to see a psychiatrist at midday with a view to being admitted to a tranquility clinic. I only discovered after his death that he had been sleeping for only three hours every night and had been hallucinating about his house being flooded.

He became convinced that a water leak was about to come through the floor and flood the entire house. He even phoned me to tell me his water bill was ridiculously high. I told him to check his irrigation for a leak which he did. He sent me a message on WhatsApp to say that indeed was the problem and thanks for the suggestion. You owe me a whisky I replied and got a thumbs up emoji in return. I’m going to miss those lunches.

Over the Christmas period I heard of two more suicides of people I know and would have imagined highly unlikely to take their own lives. In both cases the devastating economic hardship brought on by the lockdown is directly responsible. After nearly a year of lockdown, with a few months of respite, the hospitality industry is on its knees.

While there’s no gainsaying the evidence that an alcohol ban made life much easier for hospital trauma units over the new year the argument that lives over livelihoods justifies a total ban on alcohol is both cynical and absurd. Livelihoods are people’s lives and as those employed in the liquor industry and its many supply chains find themselves without jobs and pay the problem can only get worse.

A leading wine maker told me that the Ministry of Agriculture aren’t even prepared to meet to discuss the matter. The Command Council has decided that a ban on alcohol is a good thing and that is that. The 400 million plus litres of unsold and unbottled wine that exists will have to be poured away to make way in the cellars for the 2021 vintage in the hopes that alcohol prohibition will be relaxed in the future.

The inability to export wine means that all the efforts to get our wines into overseas markets will have been wasted. Having fought so long to get our wines on to shelves in Europe and the UK and many other countries we now find we cannot transport or export our wines. So what happens to our gap on that shelf? It gets filled with wines from other countries and we go back to square one again.

Guest-houses which are normally full at this time of year are virtually empty. One guest house owner with ten very upmarket rooms available tells me that her income this past year is 10% of what it was at the end of 2019. Staff have had to be put on a three day week and some laid off altogether.

This is a particularly painful choice to make for longstanding and loyal staff members. However the harsh reality is that no income means no money to pay staff – something our politicians just can’t seem to grasp. Restaurants are under similar pressure and there must be dozens of restaurant owners waking at two in the morning in a cold sweat.

Pleas to support the restaurant industry during lockdown are all very well but dinner is now completely impossible because the restaurant has to close at 8pm which means that patrons have to be out by 7pm to give staff time to clean.

Lunch is still a possibility but the liquor ban makes for a very dreary lunch experience however good the food may be. Do I really need to consume alcohol to enjoy a meal someone demanded of me on Twitter and the answer is no. But I’d appreciate the freedom of choice and my ‘lived experience’ (ghastly phrase) is that wine goes very well with food and vice versa.

The really worrying thing though is that an extended alcohol ban creates a vacuum which will be filled by opportunistic criminals (and who can blame them). Banning alcohol only affects supply and not demand and, as the USA found between 1920 and 1933 during the years of prohibition, someone is always ready to meet that demand at a price.

Admittedly the quality may not be so reliable, the brand names not so well known and some of the stuff may be downright dangerous to consume but there’s lots and lots of money to be made from bootlegging liquor. Maybe that was the ANC’s plan all along.


Those members of the media keen to stay sweet with the ANC have already fuelled the narrative that anyone who questions the vaccine programme must be labeled an ‘anti-vaxxer’ and publicly shamed.

The received wisdom is that those who refuse the vaccine (and 47% of South Africans are wary according to one poll) are selfish bastards who don’t care who they infect. Rebecca Davis, the prolific Daily Maverick scribbler, was even prepared to briefly renounce her Sapphic oath as she announced on John Maytham’s Cape Talk show that she would like to kiss Julius Malema on the mouth for pointing out to his followers that the vaccine is not a sinister plot by whitey to reduce the black population or to render it’s menfolk sterile.

One can understand Ms Davis’s enthusiasm for it isn’t often that JuJu says something sensible. Unfortunately the good sense didn’t last too long as this recently released statement from the EFF demonstrates.

Having encouraged his followers to get a jab when it is available JuJu then warns against the likes of philanthropist Bill Gates and other amateur billionaires involved in medical research and messaging.

“Our commitment to logic and science must never be confused as an alliance with Western Medicine, We must not depend on Western Pharmaceutical companies alone, and unwittingly become the champions of the interests of capitalist medicine. There must be integrated strategies, and this includes working closely with nations such as Cuba in vaccine and pharmaceutical development. It has been demonstrated for instance that traditional forms of medicine are helpful in dealing with the symptoms of COVID-19 and development in this regard must be prioritized.”

So what the EFF and JuJu are saying is that it’s perfectly safe to take the vaccine if it has been developed by hugely successful and well funded nations like Cuba but you should be a bit wary about all this Astro-Zeneca and Pfizer stuff from the First World. The bit about the reliance on traditional forms of medicine (shades of the late, unlamented Manto Tshabalala-Msimang here) should have Rebecca withdrawing her kiss offer.

My reluctance to a COVID vaccine has nothing to do with me being an anti-vaxxer and everything to do with caution. Do I really trust a government that has consistently lied to the electorate and destroyed this entire country over the past 26 years to come up with a credible vaccine? Surely the delay in securing supplies has all been due to members of the ruling party working out how best to profit from the deal. Or maybe they are hoping to pick up an untested, tenderpreneur produced vaccine on the cheap.

Apart from the fact that President Frogboiler finally admitted on radio last week that we are stony broke (which is why we can’t offer financial aid to all those poor bastards who are losing their jobs) it appears clear that we are somewhere at the back of the queue when it comes to getting hold of a credible vaccine.

Then there is the logistical problem of finding enough qualified folk to stick the needle in people’s arms. Most of them are already run ragged trying to prop up our creaking healthcare services. As with everything the ANC touches, it is a monumental balls up.


I often wonder whether those trapped for days in last week’s SASSA queues ever question their loyalty to a government that has forced them to live such wretched lives. South Africa has 18 million welfare recipients. If they all queued at a socially distanced 1.5 metres they would form a line 27000 kms long. That is almost three times the distance from Cape Town to Cairo. Think of that when you get up early in an attempt to be at the front of the queue.