never again

Lesiba Legwabe and his late wife Salamina

Lesiba Legwabe doesn’t have a photograph of his late brother Mothofela

The Buccaneering brothers

Lesiba Legwabe doesn’t have any photographs of his late brother, Mothofela.  In 2017, he was on his way to the arbitration to testify, and he took the only photo he had of Mothofela with him. “I only realised much later in the morning that I had left my brother’s picture in the taxi. I felt so miserable when I realised I had lost it.”

Lesiba and his brother Mothofela both loved soccer. Ahead of a big game, the staff at the Life Esidimeni facility in Waverley would make the Orlando Pirates fan comfortable in front of the television. Then on weekends his brother Lesiba would join him. And the two Buccaneers would sit in front of the telly for hours on end.  

“Some of us left only at 7pm when the sisters chased us away and said our time is up. The staff were like family,” recalls Lesiba.

Mothofela had lived with epilepsy and his health deteriorated considerably when he was a teenager. His mother had seven children and battled with tuberculosis. Life was hard and she was unable to take care of Mothofela who could not speak. So Mothofela went to live at Life Esidimeni when he was only 15 years old. It was a place that became home for more than 30 years. 

But in May 2016 the family arrived at Life Esidimeni for a visit, as they would often do, only to find his room empty. Staff could only confirm that patients were removed by NGOs. Some were even transported in open bakkies they were told.  

No one knew where Mothofela had been taken to and the family faced a six-week-long nightmare trying to find him.

They finally found him, almost two months later at Cullinan Care & Rehabilitation Centre, a recovery facility for addicts. He was in a wheelchair, and he had no ID book or medical records.

“He was bleeding,” an angry Lesiba recalls. “I don’t know if he was hit, or he didn’t take his medicine for days?  But we found him in a terrible state.  I remember my wife even fainted. Later she asked Lesiba. “Do you think they are going to give him food?’” 

Two weeks prior to his death he was admitted to the Mamelodi Day Hospital, with a broken ankle and a head injury. The Cullinan Centre told the doctors he was injured while playing soccer. Mothofela died in hospital and according to his death certificate it was of “natural causes”.

“If my brother was still in Life Esidimeni I don’t think I would have had to bury him,” Lesiba says.  

Lesiba’s home in Mamelodi is filled with memories of his wife Salamina, whom he buried just two months after he buried his brother. Lesiba believes Salamina died because of shock and trauma linked to Mothofela’s death. “She was so stressed,” he says.

It has been years since the tragedy but Lesiba admits that everyday he is reminded of his beloved brother.  “I went to several counselling sessions, but the trauma doesn’t stop.”