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South African government digging graves for million Covid-19 dead? No, clarifies that number for burial capacity in Gauteng

“The ANC govt knows something that we don't know, they decided to dig million graves while people are alive instead of building enough hospitals like China did?” That’s the alarming question in a Facebook post from 9 July 2020.

Many more posts have repeated the claim that South Africa’s African National Congress (ANC) government is digging 1 million graves in anticipation of a surge in Covid-19 related deaths. The claim has also been reported by news outlets

As of 9 July 2020, South Africa had reported nearly 240,000 cases of Covid-19, with 3,720 deaths. Globally there had been over 12 million confirmed cases and some 550,000 deaths. 

On 9 July health minister Dr Zweli Mkhize said the country’s epidemic was nearing its peak. 

But is the government digging a million graves to prepare for a surge in Covid-19 deaths? We checked. 

Figure is capacity, not graves being dug

The rumour started with an 8 July press briefing by Dr Bandile Masuku, a member of the Gauteng province’s executive council of health, after he visited a gravesite in the Tshwane municipality. 

He said: “We are preparing over 1.5 million gravesites and it’s an uncomfortable discussion … but it’s reality that we need to do it and we need to be prepared.”

Several news outlets then quoted him and reported that the province was preparing more than a million graves. But a day later the Gauteng government released a statement clarifying Musuku’s words. 

“The province does not have over a million already open, dug graves; the over a million graves refers to the collective capacity municipalities can take,” it said. The gravesite Musuku visited “has a capacity of about 24,000”.

Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, South Africa’s cooperative governance minister, then tweeted that the government was not anticipating that a million South Africans would die of Covid-19. 

“Government's response to Covid-19 is informed by the imperative to prevent infections and SAVE lives. We are NOT therefore expecting and preparing for 1 million Covid-19 related deaths in the country,” she said

The South African government is not digging 1 million graves in anticipation of Covid-19 deaths. Rather, Gauteng province has space for 1.5 million graves. – Naledi Mashishi


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