JOHANNESBURG, October 19 – The father of Hendrick Maboe, who died after he was transferred from Life Esidimeni to an NGO in Hammanskraal, on Thursday lashed out at government’s fatal decision to relocate mentally ill patients, adding that all the 141 who died would still be alive if they were left at Esidimeni.
“We could not be sitting here if these people were left at Esidimeni…they could all still be alive. It was not God’s will that they died..God is not evil,” he told the arbitration hearing chaired by retired Justice Dikgang Moseneke.
“The officials say ‘Batho Pele’ [people first] but they themselves do not care. As you can see what is happening in the country, they [government] do not know what they are doing…and I am telling you the worst is still to come for this government, I am sorry to say that.”
Maboe’s son, affectionately known as Billy, had been at many psychiatric institutions from a young age. He was at Esidimeni for 20 years, the longest compared to the other institutions. Maboe said Billy was epileptic, a condition he suffered from from his teenage years.
He was transferred to Bophelong, an NGO in Hammanskraal, north of Pretoria, without his father’s knowledge.
“Billy loved being at Esidimeni, he was nearer to home, and had adapted to the environment at Esidimeni. He was happy to be there also because he could see his cousin, who is a nurse there.”
During one of his visits in May 2016, Maboe said he noticed two trucks at Esidimeni and saw patients taken from the wards to the trucks, led by nurses.
“They looked so confused, some of them were crying, they did not know what was happening at that moment. They each held plastic bags, they were like sheep going to an auction…I was so hurt to witness the forced removal initiated by government.”
When he returned to Esidimeni to check when his son would be moved, he found builders renovating the premises.
He was not allowed in, and was told no one else was in the premises, the place would house a rehabilitation centre. Maboe said he spent months not knowing where his son was until he called him to wish him a good birthday, and was able to locate him in Hammanskraal.
Maboe said he found Billy looking disorientated, hungry and dirty. The premises housed 40 men who slept in a garage at the back of the house. He was not allowed to drink water because he wet himself, Maboe was told.
“I asked a woman there about the diet and whether they received medication…she said there was no medication and that the patients were taken to a local clinic whenever they were ill. Most did not have [identity documents] IDs or [South African Social Security Agency] Sassa cards,” Maboe said.
”I found him to be very quite at that place of death…he was not talking and said he was thirsty and hungry.”
He said the NGO refused to allow him to take his son home. He later received a phone call in July informing him of his son’s death.
Earlier, Siyabadinga NGO, where nine mentally ill patients died, had no operating license or professional medical staff, the arbitration hearing into the patients’ death heard on Thursday.
Siyabadinga CEO Dianne Noyile, a community worker, made the shocking revelation during the Esidimeni arbitration hearings, and also admitted that she used a license belonging to another NGO.
Siyabadinga received 73 patients transferred from Cullinan Care and Rehabilitation Centre (CCRC) to make space for more patients at the Pretoria facility. In addition, the NGO received three other mentally ill patients who were transferred directly from Life Esidimeni, said Noyile.
”It is true there was no license for Siyabadinga, the license that was delivered to us was for Life Disciples International in June 2016. We had meetings with Tshwane director of mental health, and we were promised that license processes for Siyabadinga were under way,” Noyile said.
Prior to being requested to accommodate mentally ill patients, Siyabadinga operated as a day care centre for the elderly and disabled adults in Khangala.
She said she ran Siyabadinga for three months before it was shut down at the recommendation of Health Ombudsman Malegapuru Makgoba.
Siyabadinga received no money from state for the that period and furthermore, no service contract was signed with the department. Noyile said she relied on donations from churches and other organisations.
There was a lot of pressure from the department to accommodate the patients, she told the hearing.
“It was late afternoon, and there was a bus full of patients in our yard … the officials who included Dr Manamela did not know, where to take them.They just said ‘please take these patients, we do not know where to take them’ the three that they left with us did not have IDs, we didn’t know their names, they only had clothes on their backs,” testified Noyile.
She said Siyabadinga employed 30 community workers, eight kitchen staff and eight cleaners, all of whom went unpaid. There were no nurses or doctors at the NGO.
Chairman of the arbitration retired Justice Dikgang Moseneke asked Noyile why she agreed to go ahead and take patients while she did not have resources to ensure their well being.
”Did you think you were capable of caring for such vulnerable people even though you did not have the means to do so?,” he asked.
Noyile replied: “At the time I did justice.”
”But how? You had no experience, no license, the department did not give you funding and you had to source from donors … why on earth? … people died in your hands …” Moseneke said.
”At the time I thought I could do it … but as things are put on the table right now, I can see that I was not capable. It is very sad that lives were lost and I was part of it,” responded Noyile.
In February, Gauteng Premier David Makhura suspended head of department Barney Selebano in the wake of recommendations by health ombudsman Malegapuru Makgoba, following the death of scores of psychiatric patients at ill-equipped facilities of various NGOs.
The then Health MEC Qedani Mahlangu tendered her resignation as the saga unfolded.
At the time, Makgoba’s damning report found that as many as 94 mentally ill patients who were transferred from Esidimeni to unlicensed care centres died of causes that included neglect and starvation.
The death toll figure rose over time as more information was discovered by Makgoba, bringing the number of deaths to 118 – a figure he revealed while testifying before the inquiry last week.
The figure rose again to 141 as acting HOD Enerst Kenoshi testified at the arbitration. Another 59 mentally ill patients are yet to be located after their chaotic transfer from Esidimeni.
The department said the reasons behind the termination of the Esidimeni contract was to cut costs and put the contract out to tender and allow other service providers to come in.
However, the marathon project has since become costly as the department returned patients to Esidimeni in an effort to curb the crisis, resulting in the State paying more for the service than it initially did.
The hearing continues.
– African News Agency (ANA)