“The government doesn’t really care about us. The words ‘Batho Pele’ written in government offices don’t mean anything to them.”
These were the words of Reverend Joseph Maboe as he related how he had searched for his son Billy Maboe‚ who was moved from a Life Esidimeni home without his knowledge.
Maboe was speaking on Thursday afternoon at the Life Esidimeni arbitration hearings‚ set down for three weeks‚ to unpack why 118 mentally ill patients died between last June and February this year.
Billy died after not getting proper care in a Hammanskraal home‚ where he stayed with 40 men‚ without adequate food‚ a pit toilet and only two elderly women as caregivers.
Maboe said the government slogan “Batho Pele”‚ which means people first‚ should read “government first”.
“When our hearts are broken‚ when we are shattered‚ what more can we say to the government? Jesus‚ when he was on the cross‚ he prayed‚ he said: Father‚ forgive them‚ they do not know what they are doing.”
He said the government doesn’t know what it is doing.
“Even our prayers‚ we are praying daily and timeously‚ still they do not know what they are doing. As we have seen what is happening in the country‚ they don’t know what they are doing. We continue to say: Father‚ forgive them.”
Maboe testified how he had received a call on his 79th birthday from Billy‚ which was his best birthday present‚ he said.
Billy was at a home in Hammanskraal called Bophelong‚ which means “place of life”. Maboe referred to it as “home of death”. When he was found‚ Billy was “filthy‚ stinky‚ dehydrated” and could barely speak.
When Billy asked for water‚ the nurse said: “No‚ I am not giving him water. He is wetting his trousers.”
Maboe‚ who is 80‚ said one of the two elderly nurses at the house looked older than him. Billy was so hungry he tried to eat the chips packet his father had given him.
Maboe was told he could not take his son with him and so he didn’t remove him from the home.
He said at the home there were 40 men‚ a garage crowded with beds and the men stood at a fence begging for food.
Four days after his father’s visit‚ on a Monday‚ Billy was taken to a Hammanskraal hospital‚ but Maboe could not get a lift to Hammanskraal. Maboe arrived at the hospital on the Friday to learn Billy had died two hours earlier.
Billy had been staying in Randfontein at a Life Esidimeni home near his parent’s house‚ but was moved to an NGO in Hammanskraal. Poor families struggled to find their relatives from Life Esidimeni and often couldn’t afford to reach them as they were moved so far away.
Maboe’s closing words were a warning.
“Worst things are coming for this government‚” he said.