Durban - The mother of a “high-risk and aggressive” KwaZulu-Natal prisoner, jailed for killing his wife, wants a court to allow him to visit his terminally ill son in hospital to decide whether to take him off life support.
Pushpam Govindsamy has brought an urgent application before the Pietermaritzburg High Court to order prison authorities to allow Jaiseelan Govindsamy to visit his 13-year-old son, Dante, who is on a ventilator in the ICU of Greys Hospital, twice a week.
But the KZN Department of Correctional Services is opposing the application, saying that Govindsamy’s release would not only put the public in danger; any contact with his son might cause a deterioration in the boy’s condition.
Dante and his younger brother, Darne, had witnessed the murder of their mother, Anthea, on March 25, 2007. She was stabbed 19 times at Howick Falls. In 2009, Judge Esther Steyn rejected Govindsamy’s defence that, because of his psychological state at the time, he was not able to control his actions.
Govindsamy has already served five years of his 20-year sentence at Pietermaritzburg’s New Prison.
In her affidavit, Pushpam said she had cared for Dante and Darne since her son was imprisoned.
She said Dante had had serious health issues since birth and was soon diagnosed with Leigh’s Disease, a serious neuro-metabolic disorder that affects the central nervous system. Children born with the disorder are unlikely to survive into their teens, with respiratory failure being the most frequent cause of death.
Dante has been in the ICU since November 18 and is currently in respiratory failure.
“He has been on a ventilator since his admission to hospital and is unable to breathe on his own,” Pushpam said, adding that Dante’s doctors had started counselling her on the need to start making decisions about his future.
If there was a need for Dante to be kept on the ventilator for a prolonged period of time, it had to be accepted that his respiratory problems had advanced to a stage where he had no chance of living, she said.
“I am only the grandmother. I took over responsibility of Dante’s care following the loss of both his parents, one through death and one through imprisonment. The decision to take Dante off the ventilator, which I am being called upon to make, is one that, besides placing an unimaginable burden on me, is one I believe his father should make,” Pushpam said.
She said that despite Dante’s state of health, he was aware of his surroundings and by way of gesturing, had made it clear that he wanted to see his father.
“While in hospital, Dante had the opportunity to hear his father’s voice on the cellphone, and from the brightening of his face it is obvious that the child is pining for his father,” Pushpam said.
She said she had often taken Dante to visit his father in prison before the child fell critically ill.
In June, Dante became “obsessed” with the need for contact with his father, to the point where Pushpam asked for him to see a psychologist, her affidavit read. After assessing Dante, the psychologist recommended that regular, increased contact with Govindsamy was in the best interests of the child, she said.
“This is a special and unique circumstance, the focal point being the well-being of a child who is critically ill.”
In replying papers the acting head of the Pietermaritzburg correctional services centre, Thokozani Radebe, said releasing Govindsamy to visit his sick son would jeopardise the purpose of the correctional system and put members of the community at risk.
“Govindsamy is classified as a high risk and aggressive prisoner. The chances of him trying to escape are very high,” Radebe said, adding that in terms of the Correctional Services Act, Govindsamy was not entitled to be allowed to visit his sickly relatives before he was eligible for parole.
Radebe said that from Pushpam’s affidavit, it was difficult to ascertain whether Govindsamy was being called upon to make a decision to take his child off the ventilator, or to give the child emotional support.
“Any contact with his father cannot cure the boy’s current condition. In fact, contact with his father may deteriorate his condition and cause further anxiety to the child,” Radebe said.
The matter is due to be argued on Thursday.