Maverick Citizen

Life Esidimeni Inquest

Portraits of Lives Lost: Raisibe Rahab Mangena – ‘She never saw me graduate’

Portraits of  Lives Lost: Raisibe Rahab Mangena – ‘She never saw me graduate’
Boitumelo Mangena and her late mother Raisibe Rahab Mangena (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 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. Their lives and stories matter. The inquest is primarily about their pain, struggle for answers and ongoing fight for justice. 

“When you leave the house you can’t look like your problems,” Raisibe Rahab Mangena always told her children. She had a great sense of humour and took pride in her appearance. “And she loved her kids to bits. No one messed with Rahab’s kids,” Boitumelo says about her brave and feisty mother.

But when she was only 56 years old Raisibe got vascular dementia, a disease that damaged her brain. The family searched for a place with the right care and Raisibe went to stay at Life Esidimeni Randfontein.

“She was in a stable condition there,” says Boitumelo.

Boitumelo had heard rumours about the place closing down. But they were just rumours and she was in the middle of exams at the time. 

One day her siblings arrived at Randfontein to be told their mother wasn’t there. “They were given the names of three NGOs where she might be and they had to go look for her at these places,” she says. They searched frantically for their mother, with the help of the Family Committee. 




Waiting for answers.

Finally, they found her at an NGO called Takalani. Boitumelo was in the middle of exams but her siblings visited her mom. Her sister Sophie was devastated. 

“I went to see my mom and she did not have shoes on, only socks. She had lost so much weight. She just looked horrible. I tried to feed her. I just cried.”

“So our family made the decision that as soon as my exams were finished, I would take a break and mom would come and stay with me. I would look after her, till we found another place,” says Boitumelo.

But on the morning of one of her final exams, Boitumelo got a call from her brother. Her mom had passed away. She had died the day before.

“She was so proud and supportive of my studying,” Boitumelo says. “And she never got to see me graduate. I don’t think time heals. You just get used to living with the pain. The memories come up and the emotions hit you just as hard as the first time you felt them.” DM/MC


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Jennifer Hughes says:

    I’m so sorry that you had to go through this.

  • Luan Sml says:

    What a moving series, giving life and names and faces and families to these patients… I am so sorry for all the families who lost their loved ones in the Life Esidimeni tragedy… it was a shockingly callous disregard of human life 😥

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