never again

Elizabeth Sibiya and her late nephew Alfred Sithole

Elizabeth Sibiya and her late nephew Alfred Sithole

‘It hurts that I couldn’t help him’

Elizabeth Sibiya stares at a framed photo of her nephew Alfred Sithole, smiling from ear to ear at the camera. He is dressed in his favourite branded clothes which he loved. Her face lights up remembering Alfred then when he was still in Life Esidimeni Waverley.

Alfred was diagnosed with schizophrenia four years before his death. His family had no choice but to send him to a mental health hospital when his behaviour turned violent and they felt unsafe. Alfred’s father passed away a few years before his diagnosis and Alfred turned to the only family he knew for comfort and support. Elizabeth and Alfred shared a special bond akin to that of a mother and son, but even she was not spared of his bouts of rage. “We were very afraid to even let him come home, we were afraid of his rage,” remembers a tearful Elizabeth.

But at Life Esidimeni he was content. Here he received proper medication for his schizophrenia. Everyone came to visit him when there were family days. Elizabeth’s two daughters, Lindiwe and Mpho, also remember their cousin’s love of clothes. Every time the family visited him, they had to bring him branded shoes and shirts. Lindiwe was close to her cousin. His love for expensive things soon turned into an informal business. “Sometimes he would sell those clothes in Waverley to other patients for money. He liked money,” says his aunt.

In 2015 Alfred was moved to Thuli Home in Orange Farm, without the family knowing it. After weeks of searching they finally found him. He was hungry and his skin tone had changed drastically, into a dark tone. A dreary and frail Alfred greeted them at the new facility. He complained that he was always hungry and when they were fed, they were given rotten food. “The last time I saw him at Thuli Home, he was that dark. They woke patients up at 4 o’clock in the morning. I don’t know why. It was very cold,” recalls Elizabeth.

Exactly a month after his 41st birthday, Elizabeth received an unexpected call from Thuli Home. The voice on the other end of the line informed her that Alfred had been admitted to the Bheki Mlangeni District Hospital in Soweto with a cough, suspected to be the flu. A few hours later that same day, without any time to say their last goodbyes, Alfred passed away in hospital.

Glancing at the photo rested on her lap, Elizabeth tears up as she recalls the difficult and frightening journey they had to endure the last few years.

Alfred always turned to Elizabeth when no one wanted to give him another chance. And without any hesitation, she would help him. But this time there was nothing she could do for her beloved nephew, who desperately needed food and medicine. “I really loved him, and it hurts that I couldn’t help him,” she says.