First Thing, Daily Maverick's flagship newsletter

Join the 230 000 South Africans who read First Thing newsletter.

We'd like our readers to start paying for Daily Maverick

More specifically, we'd like those who can afford to pay to start paying. What it comes down to is whether or not you value Daily Maverick. Think of us in terms of your daily cappuccino from your favourite coffee shop. It costs around R35. That’s R1,050 per month on frothy milk. Don’t get us wrong, we’re almost exclusively fuelled by coffee. BUT maybe R200 of that R1,050 could go to the journalism that’s fighting for the country?

We don’t dictate how much we’d like our readers to contribute. After all, how much you value our work is subjective (and frankly, every amount helps). At R200, you get it back in Uber Eats and ride vouchers every month, but that’s just a suggestion. A little less than a week’s worth of cappuccinos.

We can't survive on hope and our own determination. Our country is going to be considerably worse off if we don’t have a strong, sustainable news media. If you’re rejigging your budgets, and it comes to choosing between frothy milk and Daily Maverick, we hope you might reconsider that cappuccino.

We need your help. And we’re not ashamed to ask for it.

Our mission is to Defend Truth. Join Maverick Insider.

Support Daily Maverick→
Payment options

Portrait of lives lost: Family of Bhekumuzi Sithole sti...

Maverick Citizen

LIFE ESIDIMENI INQUEST

Portrait of lives lost: Family of Bhekumuzi Sithole still looking for answers

Bongani Sithole with a picture of his late brother, Bhekumuzi Robert Sithole. (Photo: Mark Lewis)

Maverick Citizen is running a series of weekly portraits of those who died and the stories of the loved ones left behind. Harriet Perlman, Darnell Nxumalo and photographer Mark Lewis have been interviewing families as part of an ongoing memorial and advocacy website.

The inquest into the Life Esidimeni tragedy 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 people are at the heart of this horrific human tragedy.  

Their lives and stories matter. The inquest is primarily about their pain, struggle for answers and the ongoing fight for justice. 

Bhekumuzi liked jokes. “Many of them were bad jokes,” his brother Bongani laughs when he remembers. “But Bhekumuzi was really good at doing impressions of different presidents. He could really make the nurses laugh when he did his funny impersonation of Thabo Mbeki.”  

For a long time, Bongani knew something wasn’t right with his brother. 

He was different. When Bongani was 14 years old, his mother took him to live with her friend in Swaziland. It was Soweto 1976 and she was worried about his safety. 

“I stayed there for eight years and got a job as a barman at the Royal Swazi Sun,” Bongani says. 

“When I came back to Soweto, Bhekumuzi was much worse,” he says. “He would harm himself and even run away. There was no peace at home. We took him to Bara and Sterkfontein and they said he had epilepsy.”  

So Bhekumuzi went to live at Life Esidimeni Randfontein where he stayed for many years. Whenever Bongani and his other brother Jabulani visited him they took fruit and a bag full of newspapers. Bhekumuzi loved to read the comics.   

Then in 2016 Bhekumuzi was moved to Cullinan. It was far from Bongani’s home in Soweto and his sister visited him there. But she was very distressed when she saw him. Bhekumuzi told her, “They are beating me and they don’t give me food.”  

Bhekumuzi stopped talking.  

The family were desperately trying to find a way to move him out. But they were too late. 

Bongani was working as a waiter at the Glen Hotel when one Monday, he got a call. 

The first time he answered, no one said anything and put down the phone. The second time the person said:   

“You know Bhekumuzi?”

“Yes,” Bongani replied. “He’s my brother.” 

The person dropped the phone. 

The phone rang a third time. 

“You know Bhekumuzi?” the voice asked again. “I have bad news to tell you. Your brother is dead.”

The next day Bongani went to the undertakers in Mamelodi but the mortuary wouldn’t release the body because Bhekumuzi’s ID was missing. “Soweto people steal bodies,”  they said. 

“He’s my brother. I begged them. So I had to go to the police station to get an affidavit before they would release my brother’s body. We had to borrow money for the burial.”

“I loved Bhekumuzi with all my heart and soul,” Bongani says. “He wasn’t okay but he was still my family. I think about him a lot and it hurts that I still don’t know how he died. This is not justice. I want Qedani Mahlangu to apologise and explain to me what happened.” DM/MC 

Gallery

Comments - share your knowledge and experience

Please note you must be a Maverick Insider to comment. Sign up here or sign in if you are already an Insider.

Everybody has an opinion but not everyone has the knowledge and the experience to contribute meaningfully to a discussion. That’s what we want from our members. Help us learn with your expertise and insights on articles that we publish. We encourage different, respectful viewpoints to further our understanding of the world. View our comments policy here.

No Comments, yet

Please peer review 3 community comments before your comment can be posted