never again

Magdalena de Lange & her grandson Shane. (right) Dancing with her late brother Frans Dekker

(Left) Magdelena de Lange & her grandson Shane. (Right) Dancing with her late brother Frans Dekker.

“Your brother is Number 97”

Frans Dekker worked as a motor mechanic. He also liked to have fun and party.  One night he was involved in a terrible motor car accident which left him brain damaged. “He couldn’t walk or talk properly after that,” his sister Magdelena says. “He couldn’t even feed himself.“

Magdelena struggled to find a place to care for Frans. Finally in 2003 she managed to get him into Life Esidimeni in Randfontein. “In the beginning I would visit him often,” Magdelena says. But she moved to North West. She and her husband had separated and she managed to get a job there. “But I phoned once a week, to find out how he was doing and came to visit as often as I could.”

One day in 2015, she arrived to see Frans. “I had bought hamburgers and marshmallows for him. But a guard wouldn’t let me in.

“There is nobody here,” he said.

“You can’t tell me that,” I shouted. “My brother lives here.”

Magdelena searched for Frans for three weeks. She was frantic because she had to return to her job in North West and it took countless phone calls to find him. 

Eventually she found him at Tshepong NGO. He was in a terrible condition but what shocked her, was that no-one had his medical records. 

Couldn’t reach the apple

The nurse told me he didn’t want to eat.

“We put an apple next to his bed and he doesn’t touch it”, the nurse said.

“Don’t you know that he can’t use his hands?  He can’t pick up anything. He must be fed,” Magdelena told her.

Two weeks later Frans was admitted to hospital. Magdelena desperately wanted to come back from North West to see him.  But she had no money for transport. A kind doctor allowed her to speak to him on his cell phone.

“Ek wil huis toe gaan,”  Frans said to his sister. “I love you.”

“I love you too,” she replied. 

That was the last time they spoke.

“I lost my whole world.”  Magdelenda says.

When Magdelenda came back to identify her brother’s body, the nurse said. “Your brother is number 97.” Magdalena had no idea what she meant. It was the first time she had heard of the Life Esidimeni tragedy. Frans was the 97 person to die.

To this day, Magdelena does not know how Frans died. They buried him without telling her and she still can’t find the grave.

“How could they do this to people who could not speak. Who could not say ‘help me.’ The people who made this decision to move patients just went on with their life. Mine fell apart. Frans died a horrible death and they just buried him.”   

“I just want to put a flower on his grave,” she says.