'He was hungry' - dad's desperate search for Life Esidimeni patient ends in tragedy

2017-10-11 07:22
The healing session for the families of the Life Esidimeni patients who died last year (Mpho Raborife, News24)

The healing session for the families of the Life Esidimeni patients who died last year (Mpho Raborife, News24)

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Johannesburg - Reverend Joseph Maboe, 80, was stunned the day he finally managed to track down his son, Billy.

Billy was moved from Life Esidimeni to an NGO in Hammanskraal in Pretoria without any consultation with his family, and his condition quickly deteriorated.

"Billy was dehydrated; he was hungry; he was filthy; he was smelly," said Maboe.

Less than a week after finding his son at Bophelong, one of the NGOs where the around 1 400 Life Esidimeni patients had been transferred, Billy, 53, died.

READ Life Esidimeni: The greatest cause of human right violations since democracy

Billy's story was one of two cases highlighted by Health Ombudsman Professor Malegapuru Makgoba during the first day of the alternative dispute resolution hearings held in Johannesburg.

His father told News24 that his son had been sent to various institutions through the years as he suffered from epilepsy and another mental health disorder.

"He was part of the family at Life Esidimeni. We were very happy with him there. But then the forced removals happened - I call it forced removals because it was like the forced removal during apartheid," Joseph said.

Birthday call

When Joseph arrived to visit his son one day in June 2016, he found that the building looked different. Security informed him that they didn't know where his son was.

"I thought to myself: 'Where is my son; who can help me find him?'" he said.

READ: Stories of starvation, ill treatment as Life Esidimeni hearing gets underway

Joseph made contact with Section27, which is representing 54 other families during the arbitration hearings currently underway in Johannesburg.

A few days later, on July 13, which happened to be Joseph's birthday, he got a call from a number he didn't know.

"I got the call and I heard some faint voice on the other end of the line and I asked who it was. He said: 'Pappa, it's Billy.' It made me so happy to hear his voice," he said.

Through the help of another person on the other end of the line, Joseph was able to determine where his son had been moved.

Joseph made arrangements to visit his son on the Saturday, but when he arrived he was shocked at the condition of his son in and the facility, which had not been given Billy's identity document, patient files, South African Social Security Agency card or medical records.

"I was stunned to see him. He was disgruntled; he was hungry; he was filthy - all of it," said Joseph.

'Nothing we could do'

After finding out his son had hardly eaten, he got him some food and snacks. "I took him outside and he said he was hungry. I could see he was somebody near the grave," he said.

"He even ate the plastic packet of the chips we brought him. He was so hungry," Joseph said. "We could see he wasn't well. We were angry, but in a way there was nothing we could do."

Joseph said during the middle of the next week he was phoned and informed that his son wasn't well and had been taken to hospital.

"I couldn't immediately get transport. We left on the Friday and arrived there around 16:00," Joseph said.

After struggling to get access to the hospital, Joseph made his way to the ward where he found the nurse "fumbling around".

"Eventually they said: 'We're sorry, Billy died around 14:30.' On that Friday, I was stunned," he said.

Billy's death certificate states lower respiratory tract infection as cause of death.

Joseph said he was planning on attending the arbitration hearing into the deaths of 118 patients until the end and might be called on to tell Billy's story.

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