Phumzile Motshegwa found her brother’s body in a pile of corpses in an eerie mortuary after hunting for days for his whereabouts, the Life Esidimeni arbitration hearing heard this week.
“I recognised the mortuary because the building was a butchery previously. Upon entering, there was blood all over the floor with men using hosepipes to clean it. The place still looked like a butchery inside,” she said.
Motshegwa said when she heard the news in April last year that Life Esidimeni would be shut down, she tried to get her big brother, Nathaniel Mashigo, affectionately known as Solly, transferred to Weskoppies Hospital because he needed professional medical and social care and could not do much for himself. He had suffered a severe head injury that left him incapacitated.
This week the Life Esidimeni arbitration process, led by Justice Dikgang Moseneke in Parktown, focused on families who shared harrowing testimonies about their struggles to locate their loved ones after they were transferred to several non-governmental organisations around Gauteng. The families were not informed where their loved ones were moved to, but described the appalling living conditions their loved ones were subjected to once they were found.
“We [the Motshegwa family] cried pending the closure of Life Esidimeni,” said Motshegwa, adding that Solly was sent to Precious Angels, an NGO in Denville, Pretoria. But by the time the family traced his whereabouts, he had died.
Precious Angels owner Ethel Ncube moved Solly’s body to a mortuary in Saulsville. Motshegwa testified that her family had to persistently urge Ncube to reveal where his body had been taken almost a month after he died. “It appeared Ncube was hiding something,” she said.
“There was a body on top of Solly’s and his head scar helped us to identify his corpse amongst others. Solly’s eyes were open but his eyeballs were missing and he had a yellow substance around his mouth. His nose also appeared to have been mutilated,” cried Motshegwa.
Her gory description of her brother’s body in the morgue was punctuated with uncontrolled sobbing from family members in the room.
Justice Moseneke remarked that even after 40 years of legal work, he found the images of Solly “disturbing and almost unparalleled”.
Motshegwa said they took the body to a different mortuary and the owner there encouraged them to report the previous mortuary to the police because “the corpse was in a horrific condition”.
Out of guilt, Ncube offered to assist with Solly’s burial, but Motshegwa said she angrily refused the offer. The family said Solly’s funeral cost them approximately R72 000 including a tombstone that was unveiled in February this year.
Another testimony was heard from Boitumelo Mangena about her mother, Raisibe Mangena, who died due to the facility’s failure to meet her medical needs. Raisibe was diagnosed with vascular dementia in 2014 caused by an impaired supply of blood to the brain, resulting in a series of mild strokes. She was put on anti-psychotics as well as anti-hypertensive medication.
Boitumelo said in May 2016, nurses hinted that patients would be moved from Life Esidimeni, but said her mother would be spared as her condition was critical.
“The next weekend we learnt that our mother was moved to Takalani,” she said.
Moseneke indicated that, according to the health ombudsman’s Life Esidimeni report, Takalani was among the five worst institutions involved in the horrific case.
“My brother went to visit Mom in Takalani and a wrong patient wearing my mum’s name tag was brought out. According to my brother, the facility was overcrowded and the circumstances were dire. “He couldn’t recognise Mum, who was shivering in a corner without a jersey and had lost weight,” Boitumelo said.
Boitumelo said her brother wondered how the Takalani staff gave their mother her medication if the nurses couldn’t even identify her. The nursing staff there had no training to look after their mother, she added.
“All the patients were receiving medication from three boxes and only patients who could walk to the nurses would receive medication. Patients transferred from Life Esidimeni to Takalani slept on benches or on the floor. There were no blankets. My brother said mum had body odour. He also saw no sign of bathing facilities,” Boitumelo said as she fought back tears.
Raisibe’s condition deteriorated and she later died at Jabulani Hospital. She was subsequently moved to a mortuary without the family’s knowledge.
“We never got to visit mum at Jabulani Hospital. We only learnt of her death there. When my family went to identify her body, the cause of death was deemed to be cardiac arrest and epilepsy.
“Our mother had been starved and dehydrated to death and the wrong medication was given to her,” Boitumelo said.
Former MEC Qedani Mahlangu was found to be responsible for the horrifying treatment and deaths of over 100 psychiatric patients, including Motshegwa and Boitumelo’s loved ones, Solly and Raisibe, respectively.
The MEC resigned and mysteriously disappeared the night before the health ombudsman, Prof Malegapuru Makgoba, released his shocking report into the abuse and deaths of the psychiatric patients.
It has been discovered that Mahlangu is now in London, studying at the London School of Economics and Political Science.
Several reliable sources confirmed that Mahlangu flew from South Africa to Heathrow International Airport in London on July 29. – Additional reporting by Suzanne Venter and Sipho Masondo