The so-called ‘Spanish’ influenza epidemic of 1918 (tellingly dubbed ‘Black October’ by contemporaries in South Africa) was the worst disease episode ever to hit the country. Part of a global pandemic which killed about 3% of the world’s inhabitants in little over a year, in hard-hit South Africa it claimed some 350 000 lives (or 5% of the population) in six weeks in September-October of 1918.
During those dreadful weeks the country struggled to keep functioning in the face of this debilitating disease and consequent deaths. In flu-ravaged cities like Kimberley; Cape Town and Bloemfontein corpse-laden carts trundled through the streets to collect the dead and take them to hard-pressed cemeteries, scenes never seen before or since in the country . In the countryside silence reigned as deaths in kraals and on farms reduced helpless inhabitants to desperate straits. As a result, a whole generation of flu orphans appeared almost overnight.
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