While the politician who is prone to excessive sweating sweated over the details – the upgrades to President Jacob Zuma’s private home cost R216-million, not R246-million, he claimed, not for the first time – Bongani was mourning the death of his father Bheki, whose face stared back at him from the pages of newspapers and websites.
Bongani Mazibuko apparently didn’t have the R20 a hospital was demanding to treat his father, a pensioner suffering chest pains and battling to breathe.
The R20 was needed to open a hospital file and have the elderly patient admitted.
Bongani said he was R5 short and ran outside the hospital to beg for the balance, asking nearby vendors and taxi drivers to help him. He bombed out and came back empty handed, and watched as another patient offered his father an oxygen mask. Eventually, the son found the extra cash and paid the hospital, but his father was already dead.
Not even a pack of cigarettes.
A bit of airtime.
A burger from McDonald’s.
A taxi trip or two.
A stupid number if you consider the power it wields. On Bongani’s version, the possible difference between life and death.
The Gauteng Health Department denies that Bheki Mazibuko was turned away because of the R20. Its story is that he was seen by a doctor, resuscitated but declared dead shortly before 8pm last week Thursday.
It’s hard to imagine why Bongani would make up such an intricate story about running around outside the Mlangeni District Hospital trying to scrape together R5. Wherever the truth lies, the power of his story is to pull our eyes towards the daily reality that millions of South Africans face. To slice through the waves of tragedy to a single case that says everything.
Perhaps if Nhleko were not drawing on his flip chart and doing some cunning mathematics on the same day, the story of Bongani and his dad would have lost some of its force. It would have drawn sympathy, but it may have been swept up in the flood of news. But Nhleko had his PowerPoint presentation ready and was showing his audience photographs of Nelson Mandela’s swimming pool/firepool, saying: “Aha, you see!”
Nhleko was also reportedly taking digs at Public Protector Thuli Madonsela and daring anyone out there to prove his report wrong (which the Constitutional Court will probably do in due course). The minister also claimed that because of the intense scrutiny which Nkandla has been subjected to, Zuma and his family are now even more vulnerable. Which means, of course, more money will be spent to re-evaluate security and to beef it up. Again.
Its obscene to think that a police minister (who has much more important issues to deal with) was spending his day trying to justify how a quarter of a billion rand was spent on the home of a single individual, while Bongani was telling reporters that he didn’t have the remaining R5 he needed to save his father.
The two worlds seem divided by some cosmic chasm, a canyon so wide and so deep that cries of outrage disappear in it like whispers, swallowed up by the dark nothingness, carried away without an echo. It’s a grotesque comparison. A sick joke. At Nkandla, R5 probably wouldn’t have paid for a single brick.
Until those in power begin to truly wrestle with this imbalance, this hideous inequality, South Africa is doomed to make the same mistakes seen across the globe. Until the collapse of public hospitals becomes more important than attacking the judiciary (by launching pointless court appeals), people like Bheki Mazibuko will continue to die. Until the state of education muscles its way ahead of some AU summit or high-profile wedding, real change will remain elusive.
Bongani Mazibuko forces us to pause and come up for air, rising above the never-ending scandals. He pushes us to reflect on how important the basics are: jobs, electricity, clinics and schools. To think about the fact that Nhleko’s time would be better spent trying to resolve the crisis in the police, which has led to a spike in crime. And about how out of touch with reality some powerful men and women have become, while others remain quiet.
A powerful critique of the Marikana report was published in the Business Day on the same day that Nhleko spoke and Bongani mourned. The headline summed it up: “The callous silencing of suffering”. The author, academic Julian Brown, argued that the Farlam Commission dismally failed the miners and their families. By spending its time defending Nkandla, the government has failed the Mazibuko family, and countless others who suffer in silence. A callous and cruel silence. DM
Alex Eliseev is an Eyewitness News reporter. Follow him at @alexeliseev
Want to watch Richard Poplak’s audition for SA’s Got Talent?
Who doesn’t? Alas, it was removed by the host site for prolific swearing*... Now that we’ve got your attention, we thought we’d take the opportunity to talk to you about the small matter of book burning and freedom of speech.
Since its release, Pieter-Louis Myburgh’s book Gangster State, has sparked numerous fascist-like behavior from certain members of the public (and the State). There have been planned book burnings, disrupted launches and Ace Magashule has openly called him a liar. And just to say thanks, a R10m defamation suit has been lodged against the author.
Pieter-Louis Myburgh is our latest Scorpio Investigative journalist recruit and we’re not going to let him and his crucial book be silenced. When the Cape Town launch was postponed, Maverick Insider stepped in and relocated it to a secure location so that Pieter-Louis’ revelations could be heard by the public. If we’ve learnt one thing over the past ten years it is this: when anyone tries to infringe on our constitutional rights, we have to fight back. Every day, our journalists are uncovering more details and evidence of State Capture and its various reincarnations. The rot is deep and the threats, like this recent one to freedom of speech, are real. You can support the cause by becoming an Insider and help free the speech that can make a difference.
*No video of Richard Poplak auditioning for SA’s Got Talent actually exists. Unless it does and we don’t know about it please send it through.
The sound of Krakatoa exploding travelled around the earth three times.