The Life Esidimeni Inquest
Portraits of Lives Lost: Joseph Gumede ‘loved to draw Mandela’
This week Maverick Citizen is starting a series of weekly portraits of those who died and the stories of the loved ones left behind after the Life Esidimeni disaster. Writers Harriet Perlman and Darnell Nxumalo and photographer Mark Lewis have been interviewing families as part of an ongoing memorial and advocacy website. Their lives and stories matter. The inquest is primarily about their pain, struggle for answers and ongoing fight for justice.
‘Handsome as always’
Joseph loved to draw and listen to old jazz music on the radio. Ntombifuthi, his younger sister, says: “He loved to draw Mandela. Joseph said there was nothing we couldn’t do when Mandela was leading us.”
This photograph was taken when Joseph was at Life Esidimeni. His mental illness sometimes made him violent and he used to roam the streets and disappear. So, he needed supervision. But he was always gentle with Ntombifuthi.
“I love my brother and he was happy and he was handsome as always, while he was at Life Esidimeni.”
The last day Ntombifuthi saw Joseph was 23 December 2015. “They said the facility was going to close so I can’t come see him in January. But they said they would tell me where they would transfer him to. But they didn’t.”
Joseph died in July 2016, but Ntombifuthi and her family were only told in February 2017. A social worker from the Cullinan Care and Rehabilitation Centre arrived and broke the news to her. Her brother had been in a state mortuary in Mamelodi for seven months.
When Ntombifuthi finally found Joseph’s body, it was so badly decomposed that she couldn’t recognise her once-handsome brother.
“David Makhuru promised he would make sure those responsible were punished and charged. I will not rest until they are behind bars,” she says. DM/MC
The inquest into the Life Esidimeni tragedy has resumed and Maverick Citizen journalist Zuki Pikoli is providing regular reports on the hearings. The inquest will determine whether there can be any criminal liability for the deaths of 144 mental healthcare patients who died in the care of the South African public health system. Patients died from neglect, starvation, torture and abuse. The inquest, being held via Zoom, is often mired in legal debate and technical mishaps. It can be easy to forget that it is people who are at the heart of this horrific human tragedy. You can learn more about them and their lives on this special memorial website.