Maverick Citizen


Health Minister, Ombud outraged after death of teen told by nurses to walk to police station after gang rape

Health Minister, Ombud outraged after death of teen told by nurses to walk to police station after gang rape
Health Ombudsman Professor Taole Mokoena; Zenizole Vena; Minister of Health Dr Joe Phaahla. (Photos: Ntswe Mokoena / GCIS / Supplied / Gallo Images / Papi Morake)

Both the Health Ombudsman Professor Taole Mokoena and the Minister of Health, Dr Joe Phaahla, on Tuesday expressed their outrage at the actions of two nurses from a clinic in Motherwell in Nelson Mandela Bay. The nurses sent a raped teenager, who was in desperate need of medical attention, to walk to a police station. The girl died of an overdose of antibiotics a few hours later when she had a seizure.

Her name was Zenizole Vena. She was only 15 years old.

On the last day of her life, 22 September 2022, Zenizole was gang-raped, took an overdose of medication and then, when she sought help at the Motherwell NU 11 clinic, the nurses said she had to walk to the police station, two kilometres away. They said they were told “not to touch” rape victims. 

With no money for a taxi, Vena suffered a seizure on the way to the police station. A taxi driver stopped and drove her the rest of the way. When she arrived, the police made her wait for over an hour. When she had another seizure, nobody came to help her. She died on the floor of the Motherwell Police Station.

Up until yesterday, 14 months later, no action has been taken against the nurses.

Now, Health Ombud Professor Taole Mokoena, has asked that a disciplinary hearing be instituted and that the nurses be reported to the South African Nursing Council. 

He said their negligence had contributed to Vena’s death.

“It was evident that she was not attended to in a manner that was consistent with the nature and severity of her health condition,” he said.

Mokoena released his findings on Tuesday 12 December after a complaint was lodged by Health Minister Joe Phaahla and the Democratic Alliance’s Shadow Minister of Health, Michéle Clarke.

“What happened to this young girl is an atrocity of bad healthcare and bad training,” Clarke said on Monday. 

“A young girl’s life could have been saved if the nurses took proper action.”

Read more in Daily Maverick: Health department probes Motherwell clinic after teen rape victim dies at police station

The Health Ombud deployed investigators to look into the matter but said he had also interviewed some of the witnesses.

“The healthcare workers who attended to Ms Vena at the clinic did not touch nor examine her with the belief that every sexual assault case should be referred to the South African Police Services (SAPS). She was instead instructed to go to the Motherwell Police Station Community Service Centre as nurses at the clinic erroneously believed that ‘nurses are not allowed to touch rape victims to avoid tampering with evidence.’ 

“Despite their belief, the two nurses did not arrange transport to take both the escort (an elderly lady) and victim to [the police station] nor call the police to come to Motherwell NU 11 Clinic to take over the case. 

“One of the nurses indicated that she only took the patient’s vital health data, which was written in a personal diary but not in the approved patient administration record. 

“Based on the verbal and documentary evidence gathered and considered, it can be concluded that both healthcare workers concerned failed to refer Vena to the next level of care needed.

“Based on the evidence obtained, it can be concluded that Vena was not attended to in a manner that was consistent with the nature and severity of her health condition at Motherwell NU 11 Clinic,” Mokoena continued. 

He found that the SAPS had also failed to assist her at the police station. 

“It is quite disturbing and mind-boggling,” Mokoena wrote, “that a basic human instinct to assist a person in distress, particularly a child, does not seem to exist within the South African Police Service in Nelson Mandela Bay district.

“Vena was told to wait … they only attended to her after she waited for 90 minutes. During this time, she experienced seizures and was foaming at the mouth. She was found dead lying on the floor in the charge office,” he said.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Battle for Help: Survival of the fittest at Eastern Cape Clinics

Mokoena has made 14 recommendations, including that disciplinary procedures should be instituted against the two nurses and that they must be reported to the South African Nursing Council. 

He also recommended that SAPS officials should be trained in first aid and what must be done in a medical emergency.

The evidence gathered by the investigators from the Office of Health Standards Compliance revealed shocking negligence by health officials.

The report states that, according to the Nelson Mandela Bay health department subdistrict coordinator, Nomathemba Qabaka, when a sexual assault patient arrives at a clinic, healthcare workers must assess the status of the patient. A full physical examination must be conducted.

The healthcare workers must also assess whether the patient is emotionally disturbed. If the patient needs an emergency referral to a doctor, they must provide HIV testing and counselling, and also pre-exposure prophylaxis. They should give an emergency morning after pill and explain the procedure of opening a case. The police will take the patient to the Thuthuzela Centre and the healthcare worker will report the case to the subdistrict.

‘Could no longer talk’

Vena and her escort, an elderly woman, were sent away from the clinic at 7.25am.

The report found that by the time Vena arrived at the police station, she could no longer walk or talk. 

“According to the district manager of Nelson Mandela Bay District, Sonia Lupondwana, there was no doctor at Motherwell NU 11 Clinic on the day Vena came. This explanation is not accepted because the absence of doctors does not absolve the nurses from providing the necessary care to the patients,” Mokoena’s report continues.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Gqeberha patients forced to queue all night in hope of receiving chronic medication

The former head of the Eastern Cape Department of Health, Dr Rolene Wagner, told Mokoena they had written a letter of apology to the Vena family but that it was never delivered.

“It is not in dispute that Vena was sexually assaulted, hence she presented herself at the clinic on 21 September 2022 for medical services,” Mokoena continued. “This fact was also supported by the findings on the post-mortem examination conducted by Dr LJ Mostert on 6 October 2022.”

The report found that Vena had no visible injuries but toxicology results indicated that she had high levels of the antibiotic trimethoprim, used for urinary tract infections, in her blood. 

“These levels were much higher than the normal levels in people taking this medication. It appeared that Ms Z Vena ingested a lot of trimethoprim tablets. According to Dr LJ Mostert, ‘the toxicology results (indicating) the cause of death will be consistent with trimethoprim overdosage’,” the report continued.

Mokoena said the nurses’  conduct had violated Vena’s constitutional right of access to healthcare. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: We will make your lives miserable’ TAC throws down the gauntlet to the Eastern Cape Department of Health

He said that despite an undertaking by the Eastern Cape Department of Health, no disciplinary action had been taken against the nurses. 

Mokoena said the clinic, built in 1996, can no longer cope with the number of patients trying to access care as it only has two consulting rooms and disabled patients have to be accommodated in the storeroom. 

It also has no functional landline and the official cellphone has been in the possession of a nurse who has been booked off for a prolonged period. 

He added that he wanted to see a security plan for the clinic in the next three months. 

Phaahla said the incident was indicative of “serious negligence”.

“It is unacceptable [what happened here],” he said “I don’t think there is any excuse for the attitude that nurses do not touch rape victims. It is completely unacceptable.”

“We should feel ashamed and apologise to the family.”

He said the matter would not end with the handing over of the report, and that the department was receiving “constant feedback” about the poor attitude of public sector health staff.

“This is a wake-up call,” he said. “The issue of supervision also must be key. The staff had an opportunity to be trained,” he said. 

Phaahla said they were also keeping a “close eye” on the Eastern Cape Health Department for “other issues”.

“This may be just the tip of the iceberg,” he added. 

The Vena family has not commented on the outcome of the report. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • jcdville stormers says:

    Outrage means nothing,only mean something if you rectify the “as long as i am at work ,i dont really have to work or care about service delivery “attitude

  • Derek Jones says:

    These days South Africa mainly because of the ANC government makes one sick. There are no words
    to describe their insensitivity and deceit.

  • Ben Harper says:

    Proudly brought to you by the anc

  • Leon Schipper says:

    So, the nurses get blamed for not being properly trained, having no supervision, and having inadequate resources?
    Not much outrage against the police over a serious crime victim dying while waiting for a basic service? Has any action been taken to address this failure by the SAPS?
    Responsibility rests from the top down, starting with the ANC deploying incompetent, corrupt and uncaring people at every level and not holding them accountable for such failures.

    • Helen Swingler says:

      Agreed, Leon. This is horrific. Who on earth told the nurses not to touch rape victims? I understand the need for forensics, but show some humanity for goodness sake and phone the police to collect her. Do something! All levels of government and the health system failed young Zenizole Vena. Outrageously. As for the rapists, if ever brought to book they will likely receive far better medical treatment in the prison system. There are days…

  • William Kelly says:

    Tragedy doesn’t come close to describing this. My tax money going to support this is a direct moral outrage and further, it is direct support of this behaviour. The moral obligation on me is to cease the support.

    We are on our own.

    • Derek Jones says:

      Correct William. We have a moral obligation to our country to do that. I wonder about the legal implications, does anyone out there know if withholding tax en masse is a workable route?

  • John P says:

    Never fear, the ANC wish us to believe that NHI is the answer

  • Cachunk Cachunk says:

    And the NHI is coming…

  • Dietmar Horn says:

    A failed state at all levels in all its institutions. I can already hear the arguments “But they freed us, so there is no alternative” or “We have to pray, then everything will get better”. “The opposition can probably do better but they are racists”, “The West is to blame for everything”. Many people will probably classify my thoughts as racist because what cannot happen simply cannot be: that the “liberators” have neither the will nor the competence to provide a minimum of state services. But even if a miracle happens and a government without ANC and EFF were to rule the country, what was destroyed in 30 years cannot be rebuilt in 5 years. Then it will be said “Very well, we always knew it, they can’t do it any better.”

  • Richard Cowling says:

    Not doing your job and getting a pay cheque is a form of corruption.

  • Esskay Esskay says:

    Bring on the NHI! The government that is so busy attending to world affairs like Russia and Palestine cannot look after it’s own backyard. Vote them out.

  • Dhasagan Pillay says:

    Please interview the nurses. We need large full colour photos. The lack of shame is palpable on your (web)pages. The judicious use of the media ‘s ability to shed light (sic – in SA) on the actions of the worst of our society and I count SA nurses who do this sort of shit up there at the front of the group. They should become immediate celebrities along with whichever idiots decide they want to remind the rest of us that it’s year-end with a racist rant on social media.

  • Olivia Sambo says:

    A young girl died, someone’s daughter, sister, grandchild, someone’s friend. She was gang raped, the most brutal, invasive and soul-destroying thing that could ever happen to anyone’s child. She was then ignored and left to die in a police charge office. Zenizole Vena, that was her name. And these unfeeling , cruel, heartless monsters didn’t do a thing to help her. The heartless nurses didn’t know the basics of how to treat a rape victim? The police ignored her for almost two hours? And all the authorities have to offer are disciplinary hearings and recommendations? Some of the most dispeakable and disgusting people become nurses and policemen. You don’t need government to do your damn job. You just need a heart, compassion, empathy. These things don’t require intelligence or training, you just have to feel for the next person. They are absolute bastards for letting this child dies.

  • Caroline de Braganza says:

    This is a tragedy that should never have happened. The behavior of the nurses and the SAPS is despicable – no compassion, no ubuntu.

    Those of us who have to depend on the public health sector hope we’ll be cared for, but I can attest they don’t give a damn.

  • Andrew McWalter says:

    Thanks, ANC and DoH, for this inspiring introduction to what we can all expect from NHI. The sooner these brainless pretenders are out of office, the better. Roll on Elections 2024!

  • Strava Times says:

    The increase in the population has overwhelmed the stagnant health services. Stagnant because the rulers have stolen much of the funds and stopped upgrading and supplying it. Where supplies are purchased with allocated funds – it ends up in the hands of phantom companies run by the well-connected cadres.
    But still the population keeps voting for the thieves.
    As for the police – they are just as culpable in this case if not even more so – because the girl was still alive when she arrived at the station and was completely ignored for so long. Those police specimens should also face the music for negligence.

  • James Webster says:

    It’s not first aid training that is lacking in the SAPS, rather it is the will to help people. The SAPS fails to understand that the SAPS is a SERVICE which means the members of the SAPS are supposed to SERVE. The overweight oafs in the SAPS are under the mistaken opinion that the public is there to serve them, not vice versa. Once again it is the arrogant and self serving attitude that is so prevalent in South African culture that leads to this insolent and entitled behaviour in the SAPS. In first world countries being a policemen is seen as a vocation, whereas here, SAPS members are only in it for 3 squares of chicken a day, to solicit bribes from offenders and to lord it over the public at every opportunity.

  • butler says:

    Much has been said about the negligent nurses. How about going after the rapists?

  • And we want to implement NHI? Surely not…

  • Janette Klein says:

    This is a tradedy. She goes to the right place for help but is refered to the police, who also failed to protect a young girl. Both police and the clinic should be charged with negligence. The uncaring, lazy nurses and police officers should all be fired because they are clearly uncaring and unfit to hold these positions.

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