Uncle missing for two months after Life Esidimeni move – Andrew Peterson

Victor Truter, 69, had been at facility for 40 years before he was moved to unknown location

Uncle was missing for two months after Life Esidimeni move - testimony

22 November 2017

Johannesburg - Andrew Peterson, whose 69-year-old uncle Victor Truter survived the Life Esidimeni tragedy, relayed how his uncle was missing for two months after being moved from a mental health facility to a non-governmental organisation.

Peterson was testifying in Parktown at the Life Esidimeni arbitration hearing on Tuesday.

He said he felt helpless because his uncle, who suffers from chronic schizophrenia, was moved to an unknown location along with 50 other patients.

The elderly man had been at the Waverley facility for 40 years before he was moved on May 30, last year.

In February 2016, before the cost-cutting move took place, about 60 family members marched from Mary Fitzgerald Square in Newtown, Johannesburg to the health department offices to hand over a memorandum stating their opposition of the move, he said.

Peterson added that he was informed that his uncle would be moved the day before. However, when he arrived, there seemed to be no order and patients were carrying their minimal belongings, confused about where they were being taken.

"I didn’t even know where they were going to take my uncle at that stage. He was limping because he had had surgery. The bus was packed," he said.

'I only felt skin and bones'

After two months of searching, a project team member told Peterson to look for his uncle at Mosego Home in Krugersdorp.

When he saw his uncle, he was hungry, thirsty and in pain due to an untreated boil, he testified.

Peterson said the caregiver at the facility explained that the patients had not been given medication.

"He had lost a lot of weight. He was dark…We have a culture of hugging in our family. When I hugged my uncle, I only felt skin and bones.

"He was very dirty and scruffy, he had sand in his hair. He smelt very bad…I gave him a hug. We could smell that he hadn’t had a bath in ages," he told the panel.

Peterson testified that, throughout the ordeal, a senior official at the department, Levy Mosenogi, showed empathy and listened to them, as family members said that they did not approve of the poorly planned move.

He said the arbitration and truthful engagement was part of the redress they have wanted as families, along with a physical memorial for those who lost their lives and those who survived.

'Criminal charges must be laid'

He also added that there must be a system to assist relatives to visit their family members more frequently, as well as further counselling.

"Criminal charges must be laid. I think it’s important that those who perpetrated this must be brought to book. I’m not a lawyer, so I can’t say they must be charged for murder, but they must be charged," he said, adding that the health minister and premier of Gauteng must apologise for the pain caused.

He expressed his disappointment in suspended director of mental health Dr Makgabo Manamela, who failed to testify on Tuesday due to a sudden illness.

"It’s a pity that Dr Manamela decided to get sick when we were keen to hear from her, because the truth is what will heal us in the end, and knowing that this will never happen again," Peterson said, adding that former health MEC Qedani Mahlangu must make herself available to give answers.