Health Department moves mentally challenged patients without families’ permission


Families not told where patients moved to

Photo of health facility
The Khululabantu Bam Centre is outside Butterworth. Only a handful of patients remain after the Eastern Cape Department of Health moved the rest without informing their families. Photo: Nombulelo Damba-Hendrik

The Eastern Cape Department of Health has moved residents of the Khululabantu Bam Centre outside Butterworth without their families’ permission and without telling the families where the patients have been moved to.

The centre operates out of an old railway goods shed in Ndabakazi. It was started in January 2016 by Sandile Sese Stali and his wife Nonikile. Many of the residents were homeless and some have substance use problems. Some were brought to the centre by their families.

The Department had said the centre was inappropriate for housing so many people, some of them mentally ill.

Stali said that on 22 November two buses from the Department of Health had fetched 58 residents and took them away. Thirteen more were removed days later. There are ten patients left.

Stali said he had in vain begged the Department to call families before moving the patients.

Questions sent by GroundUp to the Eastern Cape Department of Health spokesperson Sizwe Kupelo on Monday had not been answered by Thursday.

Some families interviewed by GroundUp did not even know the centre had been closed.

Litha Sobethwa, whose brother Velile Sobethwa was a resident, said he had not been informed about the closure. “I was not even aware that my brother had been moved to another place. Why is the Department moving our people without informing us?” he said.

Sobethwa said he found a job outside Butterworth and had to find a safe place for his brother.

Qondisa Nofemele said her brother Zandisile had been staying at Khululabantu Bam since early last year and had been doing well. She said she had come to the centre on 22 November to fetch her brother for Christmas only to find the patients being taken away in two buses.

“I don’t know where he was taken to, one of the officials mentioned something like Queenstown,” said Qondisa.

Mamqoma Ngcefe,said she was aware that the Department had moved her son Salithiso to another place but did not know where.

“I just wish they would tell me where is my child. I want to know that he is okay,” she said.

Nomapha Makaluza said she had been at the centre on 22 November to fetch her mentally challenged brother Ndodomzi. He had been living at Khululabantu Bam since last year.

“I was hoping to take him home for Christmas because I saw he was getting better.”

Makaluza said officials had told her they were taking patients to Kirkwood but they had not been given an address.

“All we were told is that the Department will contact us in January and a bus will be organised to Kirkwood,” she said.

Makaluza said the Department of Health might be right to move the patients. “But this Kirkwood place is far and I cannot afford to go there. At least Ndabakazi is not far and this man was helping us looking after our family members,” she said.

Mahlubandile Pukwana, whose nephew Makhaya was at the centre, said he had been told Makhaya had been taken to Fort Beaufort hospital, but when he tried to contact the hospital no one knew his nephew.

Stali said the Department of Health had sent doctors to do checkups on all patients.

“After the doctors left, I was very shocked when two buses were sent here to fetch the people. I managed to call some of the family members but not all managed to come,” said Stali.

“No proper explanation was given to me. They only told me that this place is not right for mentally ill people.”

“Some of the patients have been here for almost two years and we formed a bond. Their families trusted me with them, now I have to explain to them that the Department of Health has taken their people without consulting me,” said Stali.

“Some of the people were referred here by the Butterworth hospital and I also had patients who were sent here by police,” he said.

Matshaya Maki of Human Rights Centre in King William’s Town, who was at Khululabantu Bam when the first group of patients was taken away, said the Department was violating the rights of the people.

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Write a letter in response to this article


Dear Editor

I usually consider GroundUp reporting to be reliable, but I'm afraid you've got this one badly wrong. While not involved at all, I know many of the details and have seen pictures of the so-called care centre. The "care" fell far short of an acceptable standard and the "removals" happened rather differently to how your biased Mr Stali explained. Your report creates the false impression that all was well when it wasn't. In fact, another Esidimeni was brewing. You might find it helpful to speak to one of the doctors involved. Instead your impatience to publish has resulted in a one sided, inaccurate article that actually harms the cause of promoting better mental health. I don't know whether every family was contacted or contactable. Perhaps information could have been shared better, I don't know, but that doesn't change what had to happen. Simply put, you got this one wrong.

GroundUp Editor's Response

Thanks for your letter Dr Gaunt. A number of readers have informed us that we should have approached this story differently.
We have written a follow up: