Maverick Citizen

The Life Esidimeni Inquest 

Portraits of lives lost: Left lying on the floor 

28/01/022 Elizabeth Phangela and her late brother Christopher Makhoba. (Photo: Mark Lewis)

The Life Esidimeni inquest will determine whether there can be any criminal liability for the deaths of 144 mental healthcare patients in the care of the South African public health system in 2016. Maverick Citizen is running a series of weekly portraits of those who died and the stories of 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. Families have waited five difficult years for answers. Their stories matter.

Christopher Makhoba was Elizabeth’s younger brother. The above photograph of Christopher was taken the last time she saw him.

“He smiled at me that day,” she remembers. “I had taken Russian and chips which we ate together. He was handsome and he had his new clothes on and I even sang to him because I was so happy. I just wanted to show him the way I felt at that time.”

Thirteen years earlier, Christopher was hit by a car and was never the same again. The family found him in hospital. “He would disappear, and we would have to go look for him. He started to have seizures and he had to be on medication.”

Christopher needed special care and was moved to Life Esidimeni Waverley where he had been well cared for, for nine years. Elizabeth last saw her brother, Christopher, on 16 May 2016 at Life Esidimeni. He was then moved to Precious Angels NGO without the family knowing.

On 15 July 2016, Elizabeth was at her mother’s place. They were sitting on the bed when they received a call from Ethel Ncube head of Precious Angels. She told them that Christopher had died. Then came a second call from Ethel asking them if she can go ahead and bury his body.

The family was shocked. Later they discovered that Christopher had actually died on 3 July. When the family eventually located him at the mortuary, his body was lying on the floor.

“Christopher’s death has been so painful because we really don’t know how he died,” says Elizabeth. DM/MC

This series of weekly portraits of those who died in the Life Esidimeni tragedy and the stories of the loved ones left behind are also available on the website. 


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