The owner of Precious Angels, an NGO where 23 mental patients died after they were transferred from Life Esidimeni, on Tuesday shed tears as she testified how she lost her family savings because there was no funding from the provincial department of health.
Ethel Ncube said as a result, her vehicle was repossessed. The 35-year-old said she ended up unable to pay her rent. Ncube said all the money she scraped together went towards looking after patients she took in from Esidimeni in June 2016.
The Precious Angels owner said everytime she contacted the department for funding, she was told the officials were busy with other NGOs and would get back to her.
Precious Angels went for three months without funding from the state, she said.
“Myself, my mother and brother had to take out loans to put food on the table. We took the initiative, as waiting did not help,” Ncube told the Esidemeni arbitration hearings chaired by retired deputy chief justice Dikgang Moseneke.
The number of patients who died as a direct result of the botched transfers form Esidimeni has risen to a shocking 141, with others still to be accounted for.
“I had exhausted savings as well for as those for my little one, I was kicked out of my place. I did that just to go and get food and diapers, because I know a person in that condition needs a lot of care and can’t even speak for themselves,” Ncube said as she fought back tears.
“My car was repossessed … the (same) car (I) used for my daughter’s needs as she uses a wheelchair. I suffered … with relevant people and resources not being there … (it) was so draining.” She said she was so out of pocket “family members gave me sugar from their own homes”.
Ncube said she kept daily records and receipts of food purchased for the patients. She said she also had records of the bank account used to buy daily necessities.
Moseneke asked Ncube if patients ever went without food.
“Not at all, judge … we endured in spite of circumstances, and ensured there was food,” replied Ncube.
Precious Angels premises did not meet licence requirements, and under pressure from the department, she sought a house for that purpose.
Ncube also revealed that her expertise was in dealing with mentally challenged children, and not adult patients.
“The NGOs were quite under pressure to accommodate patients. We were told children would be sent at later stage and in the meantime assist the state with adults,” she said.
Ncube said she housed the patients at a relative’s eight-bedroom house. Seven bedrooms accommodated 37 patients, and one room was used for medication. The house had one tub and one shower.
Ncube said she was given medication for 28 weeks when the patients arrived. Most of them did not have complete medical records, identity documents or South Africa Social Security Agency (Sassa) cards.
“The department was supposed to do assessments, ensure files were kept and in order. There were no Sassa cards, we were told the cards would be stopped, and we would have to reapply at the social department. I asked the local clinic to come do medical assessments, caregivers looked after the patients on a daily basis.”
Earlier, social worker Daphney Ndhlovu from Cullinan Care finished her testimony and apologised to the families for the Esidimeni tragedy. She further pleaded with them contact her, as there were still unidentified patients who were alive and six unidentified corpses in mortuaries.
One corpse had been lying in a mortuary for more than a year and four months. She ended her testimony saying: “I humbly apologise to the families, I did not mean to hurt anyone. I am still here for the families to help out wherever I can.”
The arbitration hearings between the state and families of the deceased former Life Esidimeni patients, which started last week, continue.