Andrew Peterson told the arbitration hearings that his uncle went missing for two months after he was placed at unknown NGO and was found dishevelled. PHOTO: Nokuthula Mbatha/ANA

Johannesburg - A family member of a man who survived after he was moved from Life Esidemeni to an unlicensed NGO, told the dispute resolution committee on Tuesday, that his uncle went missing for two months before they could locate him and found him in a dishevelled condition.

“He had lost a lot of weight, he was dark…We have a culture of hugging in our family, when I hugged my uncle, I only felt skin and bones,” said Andrew Peterson.

Peterson said his uncle Victor Truter, 69, has chronic schizophrenia and has been a patient at Life Esidemeni, Waverly since 1975.

He explained that he received a text message a day before informing him that his uncle will be moved to another institution. When he went to the check on his uncle, he was greeted by what he described as chaos.

"I found patients being moved, some were standing in the sun, some patients were taken to cars, there seemed to be no order. There was no water, food or doctors in the vicinity. Some patients were in wheelchairs, some of the patients had their belongings with them, if I remember well, it was black bags."

At that time, he did not know where his uncle was being moved to and after two months of looking for him, Peterson said he found him at Masigo NGO in Krugersdorp. 

"He was thirsty, hungry and in pain. He had an untreated boil on his thigh which was another source of his pain. He was very dirty and scruffy, had sand in his hair. He smelt very bad. I gave him a hug, we could smell that he hasn't had a bath in ages."

Peterson said when he inquired from a caregiver if his uncle was taking medication, he was told it had been a while since his relative had his medication.

His uncle has since been moved to Selby.

Peterson continued to tell the arbitration that they held several marches and delivered memorandums to the Gauteng Department of Health trying to interdict the transferring of patients but were ignored.

He said the families went an extra mile and held meetings with former Gauteng Health MEC Qedani Mahlangu, but she did not show up on one occasion and on the next meeting she was two hours late.

"Mahlangu said patients will be taken to better places and will get the same treatment if not better. She said they are building new NGOs," Peterson said.

"We didn't believe him because we knew it can't happen in three months." 

According to Peterson, Mahlangu could not provide families with details of the project plan and also failed to answer questions on where the new NGOs would be built.

More than 140 patients died at various unlicensed NGOs across the province after they were moved from Life Esidemeni.

Mahlangu, who has since resigned, has been blamed for the botched relocation of more than 1,700 Life Esidemeni patients to unlicensed NGOs.

Mahlangu along with her department head, Dr Tiego Selebano have been subpoenaed to testify at the hearings.

Earlier on Tuesday, the arbitration committee were informed on last minute that Dr Makgabo Manamela was too ill to testify.

The suspended director of Mental Health failed to show up at the arbitration hearings due to illness and will be available on Thursday.

The arbitration committee agreed that of Manamela fails to show up on Thursday, she will be issued with a warrant of arrest.

The proceedings are expected to continue on Wednesday.