Community slams Ombud’s report on Tower

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In the aftermath of Health Ombudsman Malegapuru Makgoba’s shocking report on Tower Hospital in Fort Beaufort, Grocott’s Mail spoke to affected communities about their concerns. Fort Beaufort community members are filled with disappointment, and one Grahamstown (Makhanda) medical practitioner expresses their fear after the Ombud’s attack on whistleblower, Dr Kiran Sukeri. 

“It’s appalling that I am worried about speaking to you at [my place of work],” said the practitioner to Grocott’s Mail. “I am afraid.”

The source described their shock over the report, criticising the comments about the whistleblower and questioning Makgoba’s integrity. “It’s not [Dr Sukeri’s] competence that should be questioned,” they said. “It’s the Ombud’s. He’s being equally coy, complex [and]deceptive.”

“The overall issue has been lost. One, the whistleblower should be thanked, [and]two, someone needs to be held to account.”

The source criticised Makgoba’s statement that he found no evidence of institutional human rights violations at Tower Hospital. “If he found no evidence, he should say so – full stop.”

They continued to question why the whistleblower had been slammed for failing to produce “scientific” evidence. “The whistleblower should not be expected to produce evidence: it’s the Ombud’s job to produce evidence.”

A major concern was that the whistleblower had been painted to appear as if he had not acted in good faith. “He still acted in good faith,” they said.

“It’s an appalling outcome. It’s unacceptable.”

In Fort Beaufort, community members share similar concerns.

Mthetheleli Mana, a former staff member of Tower Hospital and active member of the ANC, emphasised that Makgoba’s report was politically motivated.

“His report was so disappointing to say the least, but I will not say I don’t understand why,” said Mana. “There are elections coming.”

“I’m not going to say [Makgoba] is hiding anything, I’m saying he is saving the present government.”

“There couldn’t be another Esidimeni or another Tower,” he said. “Because it would tarnish the image of the ANC. As a member of ANC it helps, but for the community, it’s a negative thing, and government needs to do something to save the situation.”

“There couldn’t be another Esidimeni or another Tower,” he said. “Because it would tarnish the image of the ANC. As a member of ANC it helps, but for the community, it’s a negative thing, and government needs to do something to save the situation.”

“The truth behind Tower is that both the patients and the employees are not happy.”

Mana stated that Makgoba’s report was the final hope for the community, but that it “turned out not to be the hope we were hoping for”.

The people who are vulnerable, the people who are not able to do things on their own – they should be protected by the Constitution of this country. The people who are given the task to save these people must do their task rather than being protected.

“When 1994 came, it didn’t really come for normal people only: it should be there for the patients at Tower. The people who are vulnerable, the people who are not able to do things on their own – they should be protected by the constitution of this country. The people who are given the task to save these people must do their task rather than being protected.”

Another concerned community member spoke under anonymity.

“The Ombud is protecting the government,” they said. “But hammering the patients and the community as well. I’m under the impression the Ombud did not get enough time to rehearse his report. It looks naive or automatic to say that there is nothing wrong with Tower Hospital.”

The source said they were not surprised by Makgoba’s report: “The government cannot come out to the media [admitting]its mistakes.”

The morning Makgoba released his report, 23 August 2018, Eastern Cape MEC for Health, Helen Sauls-August issued a statement thanking the efforts of whistleblowers, and welcoming Makgoba’s recommendations. The MEC’s sentiments towards the whistleblower differed greatly from Makgoba’s, causing speculation among community members.

“There is a horrible, vast space between what the MEC and the Ombud has said. When you are blowing a whistle you are making a noise, so how can you say it’s just a noise. The whistleblower did that deliberately to make a noise, and that noise is heard.”

The source concluded:

“It’s so sad to report something to the one you think is going to solve the situation, and your cry is not heard. It’s so sad to vote for someone you trust, now the very same government is saying there’s nothing wrong, whereas we know for a fact that under the skin, there are horrible, big mistakes and abuse within Tower Hospital.”

Grocott’s Mail will continue to investigate the Eastern Cape’s mental health care crisis, and will not be removing or apologising for previously published stories or the collaborative documentary that appeared on eNCA’s Checkpoint. 

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