In a country where the citizenry has a clear historical distrust of its government, it is ever so necessary that this government works steadfastly to regain this trust by ensuring that every citizen receives the care they deserve writes Tshepiso Mabula ka Ndongeni

None of us truly knows how harrowing it is to look at death as it approaches. None can ever attest to lying helplessly as the inches of our lives sneak out of our mortal bodies with every breath.

But perhaps the report by health ombudsman Prof Malegapuru Makgoba into the death of Shonisani Lethole gives a glimpse of how terrifying this experience is for those who depend on the government for their health care.

It has often been said of death, that it is an ever-present part of life, umakoti wemizi yonke, the uninvited guest whose duty it is to remind us of our feeble mortality.

This difficult truth has been ever so clear in the year 2020, where a raging pandemic ravaged many families and took many more lives in a short period of time.

We must, however, wonder how many of these deaths could have been prevented if our health system was better equipped to handle the crisis that we saw coming from afar.

It is said in the report that Lethole waited for almost 43 hours and 24 minutes before being offered a meal and that he had been dead for about 10 hours and 15 minutes before doctors officially declared him as such.

The contents of the report are horrific, but to many it finally brings to light the experiences of being black, poor, and sick in South Africa.

It reiterates the fact that in this rainbow nation access to adequate care, especially during a pandemic, is a privilege reserved for the noble people who were born into the right circumstances.

From Tembisa to Baragwanath, the images the same. It is that of long lines and frail bodies hoping desperately to stay alive long enough to see a doctor while dealing with overworked and underpaid hospital staff who have been so desensitized by this broken system that they struggle to find a sympathetic bone in their tired bodies.

While inequality grows like a cancer; while hospital beds and gravesites are congested with dying dreams and the unfulfilled goals of the untreated bodies who make up the stats and numbers, our leaders squandered the little resources we had to prepare for this catastrophe and that is the least of the many difficulties that this period has forced us to grapple with.

The facts are clear, a man died and this could’ve been prevented if the system, upon which this man depended, was functional and built to ensure that his health was the primary concern of its entire apparatus.

Shonisani’s death could have been prevented, Shonisani’s death could have been prevented, Shonisani’s death could have been prevented.

These are the words that echo beneath every line in the report compiled by Professor Makgoba.

Death bellowed between the walls of ward 23 while Shonisani fought for his life, he complained of hunger and was ignored. He lay in the ward, fighting to hold on to the slightest inch of life while he was surrounded by Covid19-positive patients and corpses that had not yet been removed from the ward.

Thus it was inevitable that he would also meet his demise like the many others like him, who wished to have survived this tumultuous period in our existence.

It is no secret that the Gauteng health department is a wagon with falling wheels, it is a car without an engine and its principles are failing to repair it.

The system’s failings were clear when up to 143 people died after being moved from Life Esidimeni facilities to under resourced psychiatric facilities where they died from various issues like neglect and starvation.

The system’s failings have come under the spotlight many more times when we’ve heard of cases of negligence such as the 2007 negligence case at at the Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital which resulted in severe brain damage to a child.

Such cases are horrifying and even more so when the people granted the responsibility of ensuring that this system works well are the ones caught stealing the little money that is set aside to provide adequate care for the poor: an example being the PPE tender scandal involving suspended Gauteng health MEC Bandile Masuku.

The good health of a people is important for the life of a country and her people. It goes without saying that with every dying soul we lose the potential of eating from the fruits of the trees they leave unplanted.

We should have been outraged with every little scandal that has ever emerged from the failings of the health department, we should be ever more outraged in this moment.

In the moment where we expect that the health department would be the commanding authority that’ll help us navigate this difficult time one can’t help but express disappointment at how badly they are failing the masses.

In a country where the citizenry has a clear historical distrust of its government, it is ever so necessary that this government works steadfastly to regain this trust by ensuring that every citizen receives the care they deserve.

None of us know what grief is meant to teach us, perhaps because grief, on most days, feels like a thunderous storm. It feels like heavy raindrops pelting down on a fragile heart, pushing rushes off tears streaming down bereaved faces and forcing them to reconcile themselves with incredible loss.

But for Shonisani, this grief was turned into a movement, a demand for justice that must, at the very least, urge us to strive every day to hold our leaders accountable for their failings.

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