“My brother would still be around if Life Esidimeni didn’t close down”

The Life Esidimeni arbitrations are currently taking place in Parktown, following the deaths of mentally ill patients in government care. Many relatives expressed their pain for the death of their loved ones. The psychiatric hospital closed down in May 2016, relocating and discharging its patients to several NGOs to cut down costs.

The arbitration was called after more than 100 deaths were found. The figure has now increased to 143. Some families whose relatives were discharged from the hospital faced the huge responsibility of looking after their mentally ill family members. One of them was Itumeleng Mohube, a 35-year-old financial administrator, who had to look after his brother, Solomon Calvin Bakang Masilo. Masilo, 23, who was diagnosed with schizophrenia and a patient at Life Esidimeni for a year, was discharged by the hospital after he was told he was fit to go home. Mohube struggled to juggle his busy life and also look after his brother. Masilo disappeared in December 2016 and Mohube is trying to track him down. Mohube spoke to The Daily Vox about his concerns over his brother wandering in the streets and not taking his medication, making him a danger to himself and society.

Image of Solomon Masilo supplied

My brother went missing on the 6th of December last year in Pretoria. I have been going to the Mamelodi police station to find out if they have heard anything but till this day, they haven’t found him. I have also been going to Mamelodi and Pretoria Central to look for him in the streets with hopes of bumping into him but I still don’t find him. I have also been checking if there might be any criminal cases opened against him but there is nothing on the [South African Police Service] system.

They (Life Esidimeni) said they were releasing my brother because the hospital is closing down and were discharging patients. He was discharged because they said he was better and that his family should be able to look after him. I tried to explain to the sister that I don’t have a support system, no one in my family will help me, I’m still working and I am still young to be looking after him. But they insisted that he be discharged. It wasn’t easy looking after him and juggling my work. There was no one to look after my brother; he was alone most of the time when I was at work. I couldn’t afford to hire someone to look after him. But I made sure that he took his medication in the morning before I left for work and again in the evening when I got back from work. He took his medication twice a day. I also didn’t have a social life anymore, and that’s one of the things that really affected me. I had to be home all the time, during weekends. There were times when I had to miss work, so so I could go to the hospital to fetch his medication. He also had epilepsy, so I needed to take him to hospital a couple of times a month.

My brother was also a forgetful person, so he needed someone to constantly remind him to do stuff, like taking a bath, for example. Or if you don’t tell him to eat, he will never eat. It was tough, it was like looking after a baby. We have an older brother in Pretoria who offered to help me take care of our brother. I decided to take him to my brother because I felt like I was not coping well with work, my personal life and looking after him at the same time. It sounded like a great idea because I was in desperate need of a break, I was really exhausted. We went back and forth with the health department and Life Esidimeni, pleading with them that they take him back because it was difficult looking after him, but they gave us options of taking him to other mental hospitals. But some were either closed, too expensive or we were put on waiting lists. I couldn’t afford to take days off at work to constantly check up in these institutions.

It was at this time when he went missing and we don’t know what happened or why he left. I am really concerned about him because I’m not sure if he even takes his medication. When he doesn’t take his medication, he snaps and becomes a danger to all of those around him. Society doesn’t really understand people like him and the conditions they have, so some days I fear that he might have tried to do something illegal, but he wouldn’t know that, and he might have been attacked by community members. We have moved from place to place because people were complaining about him. I just want closure, I’m not sure if he is still alive or not, but all I know is that I want him back so I can get closure.

This would have never happened if Life Esidimeni didn’t close down. I wouldn’t have lost my brother if he was still a patient at the hospital. I’ve always blamed myself for him going missing and I feel like I have failed my mother too. But I mean there was so much that I could do from my side. I really think I tried my best but if the hospital was still open, I wouldn’t be looking for my brother right now. Whoever decided to close down the institution was very selfish and inconsiderate, because no one even asked if the families of those they were discharging would be able to look after the patients. In this society, it is not easy looking after mentally challenged people, more especially if they are a danger to themselves and to society too.

Mohube is pleading with anyone around Pretoria to keep a look out for his brother Masilo. He is fair in complexion, has a Nigerian accent and speaks English. He was last seen in Mamelodi on 6 December 2016.

Edited for brevity and clarity