Melanie Verwoerd

When did the state become so cruel?

2019-02-06 08:27
People queue outside the Home Affairs building on Church Street. Photo: Nokuthula Khanyile

People queue outside the Home Affairs building on Church Street. Photo: Nokuthula Khanyile

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It is the uncaring and cruel disposition by so many in positions of power and influence that is destroying our nation one cash-filled Louis Vuitton handbag at a time, writes Melanie Verwoerd.

Last week I came across two stories – one representing the worst of what South Africa has become and one representing the best. Both involved children.

The first story was about a little 8-year-old girl in Gauteng. Last year she was raped by a man in an open field. Her little body was so badly damaged that she needed multiple operations, including a colostomy bag. (As I write this I want to weep at the horror of it all.)

It goes without saying that she needed multiple follow-up medical visits. The little girl was also severely traumatised. Too scared to go outside she had for months totally withdrawn from society. Her mother has been taking care of her and with her gentle love the little girl is finally starting to heal both physically and psychologically. According to her mum she is at last starting to play a bit again.

However, on a recent visit to the state hospital, she was told by nurses that they won't treat the little girl until her mum has paid just over R1 000 which they claim she owes for her daughter's treatment. In an interview with eNCA the mum said that every time she went to the hospital the nurses told her that they were doing her a favour to change the colostomy bag for free, since at Dischem or Clicks it would cost R90.

The mother said that she pleaded with them not to stop the treatment, explaining that she couldn't work because she had to take care of the little girl. She also mentioned that she was totally reliant on social grants. The nurses then told her that she had to bring in her and her daughter's Sassa cards so that the finance department at the hospital could deduct the money she "owed" from the social grant she receives.

As far as I know this is illegal. Firstly, she should not need to pay anything at a state hospital if she is not in a position to do so and secondly, they cannot "force" her to accept deductions from her social grant.

Legality aside, what really struck me was the cruelty of those nurses and the medical administrators. What has happened to us in this country that female nurses insist that they are doing an 8-year-old rape survivor a favour to change her colostomy bag? What has made people so cruel that they will look a mother in the eye and accuse her of having done something wrong when she conscientiously brought her injured and traumatised girl for medical care?

Of course it is not only in that hospital or even in the medical arena that we are seeing this uncaringness. There are thousands of queues snaking through our country on a daily basis at government institutions. At police stations, home affairs offices, embassies, Sassa payment centres, municipalities and asylum centres people wait for hours, desperate to be helped, only to be turned away

If you have ever stood in any of those queues, you would have seen the despondency in the eyes of those who have no resources to solve their problem except by appealing to uncaring and rude officials.

The worst thing for me about the state capture inquiry has not been the scale of the corruption – as shocking as that is. It is the fact that so many in positions of influence took bribes to ensure that state resources would benefit a rich family from India and white men from the Eastern Cape.

They did not care one iota about the vulnerable people these state resources were supposed to benefit. All they cared about was enriching themselves, whilst they helped these already rich and privileged men to become obscenely wealthy. It is this uncaring and cruel disposition by so many in positions of power and influence that is destroying our nation one cash-filled Louis Vuitton handbag at a time.

Yet, all is not lost. Amongst ordinary South Africans there are still so much goodness that it often makes me gasp in astonishment.

One such story is of Brett Nash. He is a severely disabled young man. Every evening for the last five years he has visited his local Spar in Roodepoort with a family member to buy something.

The reason they go every day is because the amazing staff at the Spar make Brett feel special every time he is there. His mum says that, initially, the staff let him ride around on the machine used to polish the floor, but then he got too big. Now, whoever is there makes it a very special occasion for him – often by singing for him.

Recently, on his 15th birthday, the staff did more than just sing. They pooled their (undoubtedly very small) wages to buy him a big birthday cake and then they sang for ages while he danced around ecstatically. (Have a look at the video. It will make your day!)

This moving story is one of so many I hear almost daily of ordinary South Africans across racial and class lines coming together and caring for one another.

Of course politicians will always try and blow up racial tension as much as they can – especially in an election year – to hide their own failures.

What they should be doing is having a really hard look at how the various organs of the state are treating ordinary people. I truly believe that most South Africans are caring people who want to see a country where people of all races can flourish and live in harmony.

If only the politicians and officials can stop messing it up and start caring a little bit about the people they are meant to serve – like the 8-year-old girl and her mother in Gauteng!

- Melanie Verwoerd is a former ANC MP and South African Ambassador to Ireland.

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Read more on:    spar  |  gauteng  |  state capture inquiry

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