Johannesburg – The first relative to testify at the Life Esidimeni hearings said her father’s last wish before he died was that someone look after her mentally ill brother.
An emotional Sandra de Villiers testified how her brother, Jaco Stols, who was a patient at the Cullinan Care and Rehabilitation Centre (CCRC) for more than 18 years, was one of the patients moved to one of the unlicensed NGOs.
He was moved to Siyabadinga, where De Villiers felt the staff weren’t properly trained to look after mental health patients.
De Villiers told the alternative dispute resolution hearings that after visiting her brother she felt disappointed and powerless in the way her brother and other patients were treated.
"If you look after those sorts of patients, you need to have a passion for your work,'' she said. ''They need lots of care and attention."
De Villiers said she often arrived in the winter at Siyabadinga, also in Cullinan, to visit her brother, only to find some of the patients walking around naked.
"He was very scared… Jaco was always hungry when I went to visit him. I would take him a pair of slippers, and the next time I went to visit him, they would be gone," she said.
"He wore thin clothes. It made me think; was he sleeping on the floor? Was he sleeping only on a mattress? Did he have a blanket over him? All these thoughts crossed my mind when I went to visit him," De Villiers said.
She testified that during one visit she questioned the staff about his condition and was told not to get emotional.
"I was very upset. He was my brother. How can I not get emotional?" she said.
Stols was eventually placed back at CCRC, but when his sister went to visit him, she found him in a deteriorating condition. She found him hungry and dehydrated to the extent where he nearly ate the napkin she brought him with his food.
She said a few days later, she phoned the facility and at first, staff said there was no patient by his name.
De Villiers said she thought the staff could sense she was getting upset. Someone then phoned her back telling her that Stols was walking around and no longer in a wheelchair, and that he was eating.
"I was very relieved," she said.
"A couple of hours later, they phoned me and said they were taking him to Mamelodi Hospital, [because] he was very sick."
"When I got there, he was very dehydrated. He was badly underfed," she said.
She was told her brother should actually be in ICU, but there was no space.
Less than two weeks later, she got a phone call from one of the nurses who told her Stols passed away.
Arbitration hearing chair, former deputy chief justice Dikgang Moseneke told De Villiers that he was "quite saddened" to hear her story, as he worked most of his life helping those who wanted a just and fair society.
He said her story didn't reflect the constitutional ideals he worked for.