never again

Bernika

Zenzele Mazibuko with a portrait of his late father Eric Mazibuko

Next to me in my heart

Eric Mazibuko worked as a ticket examiner on the trains that came through to Johannesburg. 'My mother kept us away because she said he was sick and she didn’t want us to get hurt. We didn’t know where he was. I missed him and was determined to find a way to know him some day,' says Zenzele.

'Then In 2011 my uncle told me that my father was admitted to Life Esidimeni Waverly. I was excited to see him after such a long time.' Zenzele cries when he remembers their reunion.

'I am a big guy but my dad just picked me up and hugged me and loudly told everyone. “This is my son! My first born son!’”

Eric’s medical records said he had schizophrenia. ‘I visited him frequently,’ Zenzele says. ‘He had dignity there and seemed to be improving with the help of the medication and care.’

Then in 2016 Eric got a call from a social worker. He was down in Kwa-Zulu where he had a small job after being unemployed for a long time. She told Zenzele that they were going to close Life Esidimeni and he should come collect his father. ‘I told her I couldn’t come right away because I would lose this job. But she said I should try to find the money and come as soon as possible. They were moving people fast.’

Zenzele managed to get back a week later. ‘When I arrived at Life Esidimeni Waverly the gates were closed and nobody was there. The security guards said they had been moved somewhere in Pretoria. But they didn’t know more.’

So began Zenzele’s seven-month search for his father. He looked everywhere. He even went to the Gauteng Department of Health offices. ‘They said they couldn’t help me.’ Zenzele was sent from one place to another. No one returned his calls or gave him answers.

In February 2017 Zenzele saw on the news that patients who were moved from Life Esidimeni were dying. ‘I was terrified and sought help from Section 27 and the Family Committee. Then on 16 February the DOH mistakenly invited Zenzele to a vigil at Freedom Park in Pretoria, for loved ones who had died.

‘I addressed the vigil and said I still hadn’t found my father. Suddenly the Minister of Health and the New MEC for the Gauteng Department of Health pulled me aside. They started making phone calls. In 30 minutes they had located my father. But to my horror I was taken to a mortuary. According to his death certificate, my father had died exactly seven months before. We had looked for him for seven months and all this time he was dead,’ Zenzele says.

‘Mental illness robbed me of having a close relationship with my father as a child. Then the Gauteng Department of Health robbed me of having a relationship with him as an adult. I wasn’t even able to say goodbye. I want to know what happened to him and I want justice to be done.‘

‘My father once told me: “When you wake up and put your foot on the floor, a new day is beginning. When I wake up and know that Qedani has gone to jail. Then I will know there is justice.“

Zenzele didn’t have a photo of his father. So after his dad died he took his ID photo to a local street artist. ‘He captured my father’s face and spirit perfectly. My dad deserved to have a place in my home. This painting of him is on the mantel piece. I look at it every day to feel him near. It helps me stay with my father next to me in my heart.’