Professor Shabir Madhi is one of our most respected scientific voices: He has advised the South African government diligently throughout this pandemic, so he knows a thing or two about COVID-19. However, Madhi took us all by surprise earlier today, when he spoke about the devastating number of ‘excess deaths’ registered in SA since March 2020.

What is South Africa’s COVID-19 death toll?

While addressing a webinar on Tuesday, the professor of vaccinology at the University of the Witwatersrand explained that there may be a significant ‘under reporting’ of virus-related fatalities in South Africa from the Health Department. Our official COVID-19 death toll stands at 53 000 – but the number of excess deaths in the same period is higher than 150 000.

Madhi, basing his predictions on a model produced by the SA Medical Research Council, believes that an adjusted death toll would give Mzansi the fifth-highest mortality rate in the world – overtaking the likes of the UK, Italy, and Russia. For him, these numbers must encourage the ANC government to continue vaccinating its citizens.

“South Africa’s excess mortality indicates that more than 150 000 people have likely died from COVID-19. This shows how potent the virus is, and how unsuccessful our efforts to contain it have been.”

“In South Africa, we unfortunately don’t have the same luxuries as countries like the US, who can afford to pause a vaccine while another one fills the gap. The lesson here is to truly consider the benefit/risk ratio before [suspending the jabs].”


They are a metric used to determine when deaths in the country are higher than usual: The difference between the average and the increase is filed under the ‘excess deaths’ category – and the total has skyrocketed in the past 12 months.

A report published in March estimated that ‘only one in 20 excess deaths’ were not directly caused by COVID-19 in the past year. However, these cases may be still be tenuously linked to the virus – given that people may have missed out on vital medical treatment as hospitals became overwhelmed at the point of both peaks.

If South Africa’s death toll really is 150 000 plus, it will only be outdone by four other countries:

  • United States of America: 581 542
  • Brazil: 374 682
  • Mexico: 212 466
  • India: 180 530
  • South Africa: ~ 150 000 (if excess deaths are factored in)


Presh JM Reporter

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