never again

Anna Thokozile Mthembu’s sister Busisiwe died in the Life Esidimeni tragedy

Anna Thokozile Mthembu’s sister Busisiwe died in the Life Esidimeni tragedy

No Space in the Mortuary

Anna doesn’t have any photograph of her younger sister, Busisiwe. Not even her ID book. From the time she was very young, Busisiwe Shabalala couldn’t speak and needed special care. She had lived at Life Esidimeni Randfontein for many years. Things weren’t easy for Anna and her family. Anna had worked as a cleaner at Woolworths but the job didn’t last so she sold sweets, airtime and cooldrinks to make ends meet.
She tried to visit her sister once a month. But this wasn’t always possible.

‘She was well taken care of. She always smiled when I visited her with my children and we took her bananas and juice,’ Anna recalls.

Then in July 2016, Anna’s cousin Sipho received a call from a social worker at Cullinan, called Daphne. ‘Daphne told him that Busisiwe had died, ‘ Anna says. ‘Sipho gave Daphne my phone number and she called me and said that Busisiwe had died at Cullinan and I must go to collect her corpse from there. ‘

‘I was so surprised to hear this,’ Anna remembers. ‘No one had told me that Busisiwe had been moved to Cullinan.’ Anna managed to find transport from Brakpan to Cullinan outside Pretoria. When she arrived she asked Daphne what had happened. ‘Daphne told me that Busisiwe had been there since June and she did not know how she died.’

No medical files

Daphne also did not have any medical files for Busisiwe. Anna asked to see the room in which Busisiwe had stayed.

‘What I saw shocked me. The room was dirty, the blankets were old. The women were not separated. There were men who had beards sleeping in the same place.’

Daphne told Anna she must take her sister’s body on that day. There was no space in the mortuary.

‘I told Daphne that I would not be able to identify Busisiwe because I was stressed. She said it was not her problem if I took the wrong body. The undertaker assisted me to identify Busisiwe.’

‘Busisiwe’s death affected me greatly. I think about how she must have suffered at Cullinan and it pains me,’ Anna says.

After Busisiwe died Anna tried to get her sister’s ID book back from Life Esidimeni Cullinan. But they couldn’t find it.