UCT pays homage to COVID-19 frontline workers

29 June 2020 | Story Niémah Davids. Director Roxanne Harris. Videography and editing Oatmeal Productions. Photo Lerato Maduna. Voice Lerato Molale. Read time 4 min.
In a special tribute message to essential workers at the frontline of the COVID-19 pandemic, UCT says, “We see you … we appreciate you.”

“Send me, Lord; send me, Lord; send me, Lord into the world …”

Singing the lyrics of “Thuma Mina”, a traditional Zulu hymn, the University of Cape Town (UCT) Choir has paid tribute to the country’s essential workers at the frontline of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Conceptualised and produced by UCT’s video production unit in the Communication and Marketing Department (CMD), the video features the UCT Choir and campus essential workers, such as cleaning staff and Campus Protection Services. Staff and final-year medical students in the Faculty of Health Sciences who have returned to campus under UCT’s phased approach are also featured.

The choir’s conductor, Leon Starker, said the choir had initially rehearsed their rendition of “Thuma Mina” for the installation of UCT’s chancellor, Dr Precious Moloi-Motsepe, in March. But as the COVID-19 pandemic intensified, the university suspended the event a week before President Cyril Ramaphosa announced the nationwide lockdown.


“Music transcends language. When you speak, you reach out to someone’s intellect. But when you listen to music, you’re touched on a much deeper level.”

The team’s hard work could not go to waste and finding a creative way to get their rendition of the song across – against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic – became Starker’s mission.

“Music transcends language. When you speak, you reach out to someone’s intellect. But when you listen to music, you’re touched on a much deeper level,” he said.

Producing the video

Starker put his shoulder to the wheel and approached CMD’s video production unit, headed by Roxanne Harris, for assistance.

He rallied his troupe and requested that they record themselves singing “Thuma Mina” using their smartphones. Starker then gathered the audio files and created the soundtrack for the music video. Choir members were then asked to film themselves while singing along to the backtrack Starker had produced.

“The students were so excited. By the time we proposed this project, we were all really missing making music together,” he said.

“The final product and the visual experience it creates is simply heart-warming. Likening the words “send me” to the incredible work being done and the burden carried by essential workers is truly special.”

A dedication

When Starker approached Harris, she decided to take his idea a step further.

Like most other people during lockdown, UCT staff have been operating remotely, except for some essential workers who continue their work on campus. Harris said she thought it fitting to honour UCT’s frontline workers by demonstrating their hard work on camera.

“We decided to dedicate the video to all frontline workers. We want to say, “We see you; we are thinking of you; and we appreciate you,” Harris said.

The UCT Choir paid tribute to workers at the frontline of the COVID-19 pandemic, such as medical staff and students, and campus essential staff.

While filming, she said she was in “awe” of the “bravery and dedication” displayed by both staff and students.

“It was such a privilege to be able to honour those who work behind the scenes during a time when many of us are tucked away safely in our homes.”

“Breathtaking” experience

Choir chairperson, Tariro Makanha, who is completing his MPhil in Development Studies at UCT, said being part of the project was a “breathtaking” experience.


“The choice of song made it all easier; it really resonates with our current situation.”

Makanha said participating in a virtual choir is often challenging, but the team pulled together, motivated one another and in the end had “so much fun”.

“The choice of song made it all easier; it really resonates with our current situation and encourages us to help those in need where we can,” he said.

“We should never lose hope. There’s always help around the corner and [with] “Thuma Mina” we’re saying, ‘Send us.’ ”

While producing this video, great care was taken to ensure that the strict health and safety measures enforced by the National Department of Health were adhered to in order to safeguard participating staff and students and those behind the scenes.

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UCT’s response to COVID-19

COVID-19 is a global pandemic that caused President Cyril Ramaphosa to declare a national disaster in South Africa on 15 March 2020 and to implement a national lockdown from 26 March 2020.

UCT is taking the threat of infection in our university community extremely seriously, and this page will be updated regularly with the latest COVID-19 information. Please note that the information on this page is subject to change depending on current lockdown regulations.


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Commemorating a year of COVID-19

At midnight on 26 March 2020, South Africa went into the first nationwide hard lockdown. A year later, we remember those who have died and those who have been affected by COVID-19, as well as the pandemic’s effects across society and campus. We are especially grateful for the front-line health workers who have done so much for so many.

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In an email to the UCT community, Vice-Chancellor Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng said:
“COVID-19, caused by the virus SARS-CoV-2, is a rapidly changing epidemic. [...] Information [...] will be updated as and when new information becomes available.”


We are continuing to monitor the situation and we will be updating the UCT community regularly – as and when there are further updates. If you are concerned or need more information, students can contact the Student Wellness Service on 021 650 5620 or 021 650 1271 (after hours), while staff can contact 021 650 5685.