Vaughn van Rooyen and his late sister Cindy van Rooyen. Picture: Supplied
Vaughn van Rooyen and his late sister Cindy van Rooyen. Picture: Supplied

Blood-curdling tales of Life Esidimeni victims

By Zelda Venter Time of article published May 31, 2021

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Pretoria - A picture of Terence Chaba sits on a table in the front room.

His aunt Suzen Phoshoko smiles when she looks at it.

“Terence loved clothes. He loved to dress well,” she recalled.

Chaba is one of the 144 Life Esidimeni mentally ill patients who died in 2016.

His story and that of the others who lost their lives in this tragedy will be remembered as told by their loved ones on an online memorial launched last week.

The South African Depression and Anxiety Group, Life Esidimeni bereaved families and some NGOs have created this page, while documentary film-maker Harriet Perlman went out to the families to capture their stories.

Christine Nxumalo and her late sister Virginia Machpelah as well as niece Shanice. Picture: Supplied

She also took pictures of them, some holding the only remaining picture they still have of their loved ones who died of starvation and neglect.

All of them share a similar story and hope for justice when the inquest into the deaths starts on July 19 at the Gauteng High Court, Pretoria.

Phoshoko recalled how Chaba often came to visit her family on weekends. He needed special care and stayed at Life Esidimeni Randfontein.

Suzen Phoshoko with her late nephew Terence Chaba. PIcture: Supplied

“His favourite activity was to go shopping with my husband,” she remembered.

She told Perlman that one day she was called to a meeting at Pretoria West Hospital.

It was about Terence. She packed some fruit and tasty treats and together with her cousin made her way to the hospital.

While they were sitting in the waiting room, Suzen’s cousin noticed some files on the table.

Rosy Tshabalala holding a picture of her late mother Julia Kedibone Tshawe. Picture: Supplied

She leaned forward to look more closely.

“Suzen,” she whispered.

“Do you see this file has Terence’s name on it?”

She opened it. “It says – deceased.”

“That is how I found out that Terence was dead,” Suzen said.

“He had been there a month before and they didn’t tell us.”

Terence Chaba died at Precious Angels.

He was moved from Randfontein without Suzen knowing.

And he died within 10 weeks of being there.

He was 28 years old.

The story of the late Virginia Machpelah, who suffered from the early onset of Alzheimer’s disease and lived at Life Esidimeni Randfontein Care Centre for two years, is also told on the website.

Her sister, Christene Nxumalo, recalled how happy she looked when they visited her shortly before the tragedy.

“I didn’t know it would be the last time I would see my sister alive.”

Two weeks after Nxumalo had seen her sister, she received an SMS telling her she had been moved.

But the person didn’t know where.

Nxumalo spent two weeks trying to find her sister.

She eventually discovered that Machpelah had been moved to the NGO Precious Angels in Pretoria and planned to visit as soon as possible.

But then she received the call she will never forget. Her sister was dead.

Nxumalo told Perlman about her struggle to find the body in a mortuary in Atteridgeville.

She was eventually located with the help of the police.

But tragedy struck again, as on the first day of the arbitration proceedings, Machpelah’s daughter, Shanice, 21, collapsed and died suddenly.

It is believed she died of broken heart syndrome, a heart condition triggered by extreme stress.

Another story told is that of Rosy Tshabalala, who received a message that her mother, Julia Kedibone, had been moved to another care facility.

Tshabalala was sent from one NGO to another looking for her mother.

Finally two months later, Precious Angels told her to go to Kalafong Hospital, where she was informed her mother had died a month earlier.

Today Tshabalala still does not know how she died, as no post- mortem was conducted.

Meanwhile the brother of the late Cindy van Rooyen, Vaughn van Rooyen, said he feels great sadness when he looks at her picture.

“I can’t get out of my mind how she looked when I saw her before she died.

“That’s the picture that stays with me.

“She was wearing someone else’s dress that was too big, an old lady’s dress.

“I gave her a hug and she smelt like she hadn’t been washed.

“And she was so skinny.

“Like a skeleton,” he told Perlman during her visit to the family.

* The heart-rending stories of these and the other families can be viewed on

Pretoria News

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