never again

Petrus Phehla and his late sister Deborah Phehla

Petrus Phehla and his late sister Deborah Phehla

Plastic and brown paper in her stomach

It was Good Friday, 26 March 2016. The Phehla family were in church when Zimbu Maria got a call. It was about Deborah Phehla, her daughter who was intellectually disabled. Deborah had lived at Life Esidimeni Randfontein, but had been moved to Takalani only four days before. The call was from the matron. She told Mrs Phehla her daughter had died. The matron said that Deborah had been healthy when she arrived, but had suddnely become ill and vomited the night before and then died.

The family was shocked. They had seen Deborah two weeks before and she was fine. That Monday Maria and Petrus went to Takalani and asked to see Deborah’s medical records. “We wanted to see for ourselves, whether she had been sick. But there weren’t any. We tried to ask what had happened, but everyone had a different story. One person said ‘just ask another one.’ ”

Petrus and his mother were then told that Deborah’s body was with a private undertaker, Vusana Funeral Parlour and they went there to find the body. What they saw was completely shocking. Deborah’s arm was standing at a 90 degree angle to the rest of her body, and there was blood all over her face.

The family were determined to find out the truth.They arranged for a post mortem and went back to Takalani. “We wanted to see the room where Deborah had died,” Petrus says, “but when we saw it, we were shocked. It looked like a storeroom. It was small and dirty.”

The post mortem report then revealed that there was plastic and brown paper in Deborah’s stomach when she died.

Zimbu Maria passed away in 2021. “My mother never got over losing Deborah and her health deteriorated after my sister died,” Petrus says.

“I want to know how my sister ended up in that room alone, separate from anyone. Why did she have pieces of plastic and paper in her stomach? It haunted my mother that Deborah had been left in that room, separated from everyone else and forgotten about. That she had been starving and resorted to eating plastic and paper.”

“We want to know the truth.”