Durban - Was a former Durban district surgeon gagged and murdered to silence her from testifying and giving medical evidence against a rapist or abuser?
That is the question that is haunting the friends and colleagues of Dr Vajnah Banoo Mohamed, whose decomposed body was found in her Durban North home last Tuesday.
Mohamed, 63, had told at least two organisations which assist sexually abused children that she had recently received death threats.
“In this business we all get threats, but she told me three months ago that they are going to kill me’,” recalled Jackie Branfield, founder of the Bobbi Bear human rights organisation that helps sexually abused and raped children.
Mohamed, however, did not provide any details.
Another organisation confirmed on Monday that the doctor had said the same to them 18 months ago.
Although Mohamed had retired in May as the district surgeon at Prince Mshiyeni Hospital in uMlazi, where she carried out medical examinations on victims of rape, sexual abuse and domestic abuse, she still had outstanding cases where she had to testify and present her findings in court against the alleged perpetrators.
“Part of her job was to defend her findings and she was the sort of person who would not budge (in her evidence),” Branfield said.
Another source explained that a district surgeon was the first step in the collection of evidence in rape cases. And if a sample was taken from a rape victim and was later linked by DNA, then a doctor’s evidence would be damning for the perpetrator.
“The irony is that Dr Mohamed’s evidence would have been well documented before a court hearing and another doctor could testify on her findings in court.”
Mohamed’s body was found by a neighbour at their gated complex at Brown’s Drift Road, Durban North. Masking tape had been bound around her face.
Police spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Thulani Zwane said that Greenwood Park police were called to the scene where they found the doctor lying on the bedroom floor with head injuries.
Asked if investigators were considering that her murder could be linked to a pending court case where the doctor was expected to give evidence and that she was silenced to prevent her from testifying, Zwane said police could not divulge any more details because investigations were “at the sensitive stage”.
One of the doctor’s professional colleagues, who cannot be named because the source is not permitted to talk to the media, felt the murder was “absolutely” linked to the doctor’s work.
“It was not a robbery, and although I understand there was no forced entry to her home, she could have been followed home. There are some people now who have a sense of fear, wondering who is next.”
Thora Mansfield, the founder of the Open Door Crisis Centre in Pinetown that fights child abuse, trafficking and domestic violence, said it was an “absolute tragedy” that a woman who had dedicated her life to getting results against perpetrators of crimes against women and children, had died a violent death.
“All of us working in this field place ourselves at risk,” she said.
Branfield said Mohamed had been the first district surgeon who had listened to the organisation when they first met about 10 years ago.
“I told her what was happening to the women and children at the hospital and how they were treated. They were rape and sexual assault victims and the staff had treated them badly at that time.
“They were left sitting on benches all night without food and drink before being examined.
“She used her own money at times to give the children food and drink. She was also instrumental in getting comfort centres put into hospitals for victims.”
And along with organisations like Bobbi Bear, Mohamed also lobbied for rape victims to get post-exposure anti-retrovirals.
In a Facebook tribute, Branfield said that Mohamed had helped thousands of raped and abused children and she had the utmost love and respect for victims.
“Your medicals were always done with dignity and professionalism. Thank you for dedicating your life to the broken children. Thank you for what you did over the years for the Bobbi Bear team. You truly were one in a million,” she wrote.
The police are appealing to anyone who might have information about the whereabouts of the suspects to contact their local police station or Crime Stop at 08600 10111.