Public service watchdog PSAM has renewed the call for former Tower Hospital psychiatrist Kiran Sukeri to be protected, as concern grows about Life Esidimeni whistleblower, Nomawethu Kunene.
Allegations about poor treatment of patients at Tower Hospital in Fort Beaufort should be investigated by the Human Rights Commission, and acted on by the Public Protector, says Public Service Accountability Monitor Director Jay Kruuse.
An exposé in City Press and Rapport on 4 March 2018 presented shocking images of an isolation room at Tower Psychiatric Hospital in Fort Beaufort. Sukeri spoke out about the alleged degrading and inhumane treatment of patients and claimed that forged death registers meant an alarming number of patient deaths at the hospital in recent years had gone unrecorded. Sukeri’s claims were refuted by the Department of Health in the Eastern Cape.
Sukeri feared repercussions.
“I know what I’m going to tell you will jeopardise my safety, as well as that of my family, but I don’t care: those patients urgently need to be helped,” Sukeri was quoted saying in the article, ‘Eastern Cape’s ticking psychiatric time bomb’.
Kruuse emphasised that the Department of Health must uphold the rights outlined in the Protected Disclosures Act, or ‘Whistleblower Act’.
On 18 March, the Sunday Times reported that Life Esidimeni whistleblower, Nomawethu Kunene, had been missing for 20 days. Kunene’s disappearance follows her confusing arrest in December 2017, as well as an unexplained R10 million deposited into her NGO’s bank account.
The article stated: “Neighbours said that on the night of Kunene’s disappearance, they heard a loud bang coming from her house. It was later followed by the sound of a moving car.”
In a cost-saving measure, the Gauteng health department in October 2015 ended an outsourced care contract with Life Healthcare Esidimeni. The action was in line with a policy to “deinstitutionalise” psychiatric patients. Around 1 300 patients were transferred to the care of their families, NGOs and other facilities. Of those, 143 died. In awarding R1.2 million to each of the 67 families affected in March this year, former Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke condemned what he said was a sheer lack of official accountability.
On 12 March Eyewitness News reported that social worker Nomawethu Kunene had been missing for almost three weeks. Kunene, EWN said, had alerted authorities to alleged corruption and money laundering in the Department of Social Development.
Since the publication of the Tower whistleblower’s claims, both the Department of Health as well as the South African Human Rights Commission have begun investigations.
“Not only should this case be taken up and looked at by the Human Rights Commission, but strictly speaking the law requires the Public Protector to act on protected disclosures when they are made to that office.”
Grocott’s Mail will continue to investigate Tower Psychiatric Hospital in conjunction with PSAM.
*This story has been re-edited as of 3 June 2018, the original story was published online on 28 March 2018.