PLIGHT OF THE IMMOBILE
‘It is not nice being me’ — more than 5,000 people in Eastern Cape wait for wheelchairs
The waiting list for wheelchairs in the Eastern Cape is more than 10 times longer than in other provinces. Lawsuits for medical negligence to the tune of R40bn have been filed against the provincial health department in the past decade, making less money available for wheelchairs.
More than 5,000 people are waiting for wheelchairs in the Eastern Cape — a situation that has caused tremendous suffering for patients and the families that look after them.
Every day Gogo Nomalwandle Gosa (80) sits on the floor of her mud rondavel in Ngcobo listening to the radio. Her grandchildren come to keep her company.
“It is not nice being me. I used to be a person who liked doing things for myself and not having to rely on others to assist me. But now I have no choice but to keep bothering my children and grandchildren whenever I need something as simple as going outside,” she said, shaking her head and adding that life would be much better if she could get a wheelchair.
Gosa lost her ability to walk after suffering a stroke in 2017 and has been waiting for a wheelchair ever since. Now, if she wants to go to the hospital, she must pay R700 in taxi fees for a 15km trip — the “special fee” for disabled passengers.
To relieve herself, she must ask her grandchildren to carry her to a nearby veld as she does not have a toilet.
“People like myself deserve to receive healthcare on our doorstep. I sometimes worry that one day I will collapse and die while waiting in long queues in the hospital,” she said.
She said the government continued to neglect elderly people living with disabilities in remote parts of the Eastern Cape.
“If that wasn’t the case I would have long received a decent wheelchair. I sometimes watch on TV people like myself in urban areas receiving new wheelchairs. But we as rural dwellers are a forgotten people,” she said.
In the same village, Siyabulela Rasmeni looks after his 29-year-old daughter Zizo who suffers from cerebral palsy. His wife left them in 2018.
“She just took a bus to Cape Town … she hasn’t returned or phoned to enquire about our daughter’s situation. I am unable to work because Zizo needs my full-time attention,” Rasmeni said.
Also in Ngcobo, Nophelo Stancu (50) is looking after her disabled son Andile Nondala (20). He has never been able to walk.
A wheelchair, Stancu said, would go a long way to alleviate his plight.
“Now I have to do everything for him, from bathing and taking him everywhere he needs to go,” she said. She said they used to have a wheelchair that was donated to him by his aunt’s employer but it broke because of the rough terrain where they live.
“The grass is long here and we live in a hilly village. If I get a wheelchair, I will have to erect a pathway in order to make it easier for him to move around,” she said. Transport is also a major concern and she pays extra when she takes her son to the clinic.
The minister of health, Dr Joe Phaahla, said — in response to a parliamentary question from the EFF’s Naledi Nokukhanya Chirwa — that 5,140 people in the Eastern Cape were waiting for wheelchairs. In other provinces, this number is significantly lower: 181 in Gauteng, 166 in KwaZulu-Natal, 789 in Limpopo, 67 in Mpumalanga, 244 in North West and 166 in the Northern Cape.
Medical negligence lawsuits
Eastern Cape Health Department spokesperson Yonela Dekeda said the increase in demand has not been met because of the provincial government’s fiscal constraints. Lawsuits worth R40-billion have been filed against the Eastern Cape Department of Health in the past decade for medical negligence.
“This means that patients may wait longer to receive their wheelchairs,” Dekeda said.
She said that in the previous financial year, the department had allocated R13-million for the procurement of 2,381 wheelchairs.
“The delivery of these wheelchairs is expected in the next two months. This will reduce the backlog significantly.”
She said that in the current financial year, a budget allocation of R16-million had been made to address the situation.
“We have partnered with the Latter-day Saints charities to procure and supply wheelchairs.”
In the 2022/23 financial year, the charity donated R5-million worth of wheelchairs to the department. These wheelchairs have been issued to patients around the province.
“In addition, the department has prioritised the repair and maintenance of wheelchairs to extend the lifespan of the wheelchairs issued to patients. This is expected to reduce the frequency of replacements, hence increasing the number of new beneficiaries that are issued with wheelchairs for the first time.”
Another Eastern Cape woman pleading for a wheelchair is 68-year-old Mamgema Mbangatha from the Gabazi locality near Qumbu. She has been unable to walk or stand since 2019 and lies on a mattress all day long.
Mbangatha’s daughter Nokuthula believes a wheelchair will make life easier for her mother. The family’s situation got worse a few weeks ago after the elderly woman’s Sassa grant card expired and Nokuthula had to carry her mother to Qumbu Post Office to renew it. But the scanner could not read her mother’s fingerprints.
“If my mother can get a wheelchair it will be better because she is sleeping day and night and she can’t even stand.”
Nokuthula said all the family members are unemployed and depend on her mother’s Sassa grant money.
A disabled woman in Gabazi said she sympathises with Mbangatha and lends her her wheelchair every now and again.
“I know exactly what Mbangatha is going through. I know the pain those children are going through. I was once in that situation without a wheelchair and that is why I sometimes sacrifice,” the woman said. DM/MC