Maverick Citizen


Portraits of Lives Lost: The file said ‘deceased’, that’s how I found out that Terence was dead

Portraits of Lives Lost: The file said ‘deceased’, that’s how I found out that Terence was dead
Suzen Phoshoko and a portrait of her late nephew Terence Chaba. (Photo: Mark Lewis)

Maverick Citizen is running a series of weekly portraits of those who died in the Life Esidimeni tragedy 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. They 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. 

The photo above of Terence Chaba sits on a table in the front room. Suzen Phoshoko smiles when she looks at it.

“Terence loved clothes. He loved to dress well,” she says.

Terence was Suzen’s beloved nephew. After her older sister Rose died, Suzen became Terence’s guardian. Terence needed special care and so he stayed at Life Esidimeni Randfontein. But he often came on weekends and during holidays to stay with Suzen and her family.

“His favourite activity was to go shopping with my husband,” Suzen remembers. “They had the best relationship. They would shop and buy Terence new jeans! I don’t know how many pairs of jeans he had!”

One day Suzen was called to a meeting at Pretoria West Hospital. It was about Terence. She packed some fruit and tasty treats and she and her cousin made their way to the hospital.

While they were sitting in the waiting room, Suzen’s cousin noticed some files on the table. She leaned forward to look more closely.

“Suzen,” she whispered. “Do you see this file has Terence’s name on it?” She opened it.

“It says — deceased!”

“That is how I found out that Terence was dead,” Suzen says. “He had been there a month before and they didn’t tell us.”

Terence Chaba died at Precious Angels. He had been moved from Randfontein, without Suzen knowing. And he died within 10 weeks of being there. He was 28 years old. DM/MC 

The 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. 


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • David A says:

    This is absolutely f**king disgusting! Reading these stories breaks my heart. I hope like hell that there are some severe consequences for whoever was responsible (carers and organisation heads alike) but, being involved in the legal profession myself, I’m suspect that may be an unrealistic expectation on my part.

  • ethne starke says:

    What happened to these poor people is utterly disgraceful. Worse still, is that the government doesn’t care and those involved have been promoted.

  • Jennifer Ward says:

    Thankyou for creating a memorial for the people who are suffering, and for reminding us to see their pain which prevents us from settling for being apathetic about the injustice that continues to reign.

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