Johannesburg - Sarah Bezuidenhout’s living conditions were harsh. A small shack of corrugated iron that was barely holding together. Inside there was no stove or kitchen, just a broken double bed, filling up the room, and a few clothes sprinkled across the floor.
Her neighbours in Protea South say that despite how sick she was, when paramedics from the Joburg emergency services saw the conditions she was living in, they refused to take her to the hospital.
She died the next day.
Bezuidenhout, 44, had been sick for several weeks. On Thursday, neighbour Busisiwe Twala called an ambulance. But when they arrived they refused to transport her to hospital.
“They said even if they take her to the hospital she is still going to come back to this place so there was no point,” said neighbour Cristina Twala. “They left her to die because she was dirty.”
“They said the shack needed to be fixed and we must go to the ward councillor,” said Busisiwe.
The next day, Bezuidenhout was worse. Busisiwe called emergency services and says she was told that they would not respond to calls from the informal settlement in Protea South.
She called a second time. Her initial call was at 12.30pm, Bezuidenhout died at 6.30pm and the ambulance eventually arrived at 20.30pm.
“They want our votes but they can’t help us when we are sick,” said Busisiwe. “If a person is sick we must take them to a clinic in a wheelbarrow, we are too dirty to go in the ambulance.”
Robert Mulaudzi, spokesman for emergency services, said they took the issue seriously, but would not investigate until the family laid a formal complaint.
The death of Sarah Bezuidenhout mirrors the negligent death of a homeless man that was revealed in an exposé by The Star in 2004. The body of an unidentified homeless man was discovered in President Street in the Joburg CBD by a security guard.
The afternoon before, surveillance cameras revealed that the man – still alive – had been lying in a gutter. Security guards reported the man to the Joburg Emergency Management Services.
An ambulance arrived, but the two paramedics examining the man carried him to a nearby wall and left him there to die because they would not put the “flea-and-tick-ridden vagrant” into their ambulance because he was “too dirty and stank”.
The man died a few hours later.
If you have a complaint against the JEMS, call 011-375-5555 or visit your local fire station. - Additional reporting by Shain Germaner