Bodies of dead Esidimeni patients were taken to an unmarked private mortuary in Atteridgeville (Gauteng) where they were kept, unidentified, in a pile.
Bodies stacked on top of each other
Phumzile Mashego found the body of her brother, Solly, along with other unclaimed bodies in the fridge of a rundown mortuary that was part of a shopping complex. Solly had died at the now notorious Precious Angels NGO.
“After we heard that Solly had passed away, we were told that he was at the funeral home called ‘Put U 2 Rest’ but his body was not there,” said Phumzile. “They directed us to this place that looked like an old butchery.”
Inside, she and her sister, Zandile, were given gloves and told to look through bodies that were stacked one on top of the other inside a large fridge. They found Solly’s unmarked body in the pile – and were told that they were lucky he hadn’t been given a pauper’s burial, as had happened to others.
Mashego’s revelation at a weekend vigil attended by Health Director General Precious Matsoso, led to Matsoso holding a marathon vigil of her own outside the mortuary.
“As soon as I heard the story, I started moving out of the vigil to go to that place,” Matsoso told Health-e. “I first sent my assistant but when she got no assistance, I went with a big contingent of police that was sent by the premier of Gauteng.”
Getting to the bottom of things
However, Matsoso waited outside the face-brick building just off Cindi Street from around 16:30 on Saturday until 22:30 without being able to get inside.
“The owner claimed she didn’t have transport to come and open for us. I left the police there and said no one comes in or out until I get there,” said Matsoso.
She then returned at 08:00 yesterday morning.
“I can confirm that the place is licensed as a mortuary by the Tshwane municipality, and there were nine bodies inside but none were from Life Esidimeni,” said Matsoso. “I suspect that, at a stage last year, there were a lot of bodies there from Esidimeni but that is not the case now. It has been cleaned up because of all the attention.”
Matsoso has committed to investigating “every single death of Esidimeni patients” to “get to the bottom of what has happened".
Irregular and suspicious
She confirmed the claim made last week by Democratic Alliance MPL Jack Bloom that the Hammanskraal NGO, Tshepong, had buried six former Esidimeni patients privately without their families being informed.
“Jack Bloom is correct. We followed that up and we are aware of where they have been buried,” said Matsoso.
At the time, Bloom said: “It is highly irregular and suspicious that private burials were done as it is usually the state's responsibility, and it would be illegal if done without a valid death certificate.”
Meanwhile, Matsoso said that human rights organisation SECTION27 “deserves an award” for their work in exposing the Esidimeni scandal.
“I salute them for never giving up. They have my utmost respect for fighting for patients’ rights and sharing information with us in the way that they did. If it wasn’t for them, we might not have known about this until there were a thousand deaths,” said Matsoso.