History check: Did 1918 Spanish flu kill 300k Saffas in 2 years?

History check: Did 1918 Spanish flu kill 300k Saffas in 2 years?

- In 1918, the Spanish flu broke out and spread across the world

- Over 50 million deaths were reportedly recorded during 1918 and 1919

- According to Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, about 300 000 South Africans died during that time

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In April, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma said the Spanish flu killed about 300 000 South Africans. The minister spoke about the outbreak of the coronavirus, which has since sent the country into lockdown.

She said:

"The world, and our nation, have not been faced by such a potentially daunting challenge since the 1918 Spanish Flu and the 1932 Great Depression. You will recall that the Spanish flu decimated more than 300,000 South Africans over a two-year period.”

Briefly.co.za decided to take a look at the stats and how many Spanish flu-related deaths in Mzansi had been recorded.

READ ALSO: SA records 43 more Covid-19 related deaths, 24 264 infections

History of the Spanish flu:

The Spanish flu, which was dubbed the most deadly pandemic in the world, broke out in 1918 during the first world war.

Despite its name, the Spanish flu did not break out in Spain. In fact, the origins of the flu have not been determined but it has been suggested several countries, including France, Britain, China and the US, could have been ground zero.

The flu was caused by the H1N1 virus, which was believed to have come from birds, according to Africa Check.

Impact on the world:

The Spanish flu stretched for 15 months from spring 1918 to early summer 1919, and it had infected 500 million people - which was about a third of the world's population.

According to statistics, the number of deaths reported were about 50 million.

Impact on South Africa:

South Africa History Online reported South Africa's part in the first war led to the onset of the Spanish flu in the country.

It spread to rural areas through infected migrant workers leaving gold and diamond mines.

Howard Philips, a historian at the University of Cape Town, said South Africa was estimated to have been “one of the five worst hit parts” of the world.

Phillips conducted a detailed research on the Spanish flu's effects on South Africa and he wrote two books on the subject.

He told Africa Check that the government's statistics showed a death toll of 140 000 to 142 000 people for 1918 and 1919.

However, he claims the unreliable way the stats were calculated could mean the toll was probably low.

“There was no comprehensive death registration system in South Africa in 1918. There was supposedly for whites, but for Africans in [the Cape province and Transvaal] there was no requirement to register deaths,” he said.
“In many rural areas where there was a requirement, they were overwhelmed by the huge number of deaths that they needed to count.”

Philips decided to study the country's 1921 census and found that there was a significant shortfall of half a million people in the general population.

By comparing the number of Spanish flu deaths to the estimated shortfalls, Phillips concluded the actual death toll was likely between 200 000 and 350 000 people.

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Source: Briefly.co.za

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