'Not even an animal would be treated like this': sister tells of brother's death

18 October 2017 - 14:45 By Katharine Child
Image: Google Photo

Jaco Stolts' father’s dying wish was that his mentally challenged son would be taken care of. Now his sister Sandra De Villiers cannot come to terms with Stolts' death at the hands of a state institution.

"Not even an animal would be treated like this‚" Sandra de Villiers told the Life Esidimeni arbitration hearings as she detailed how her brother died.

De Villiers was the first family witness to testify in the arbitration hearings that have been set up to answer why this tragedy occurred. Her testimony left a shocked audience in silence.

Stolts‚ who had the mental capacity of 9-year-old‚ taught his sister that money didn’t buy happiness‚ he "was happy with so little and just wanted pens and paper to draw‚" De Villiers recalled.

But eventually‚ a lack of water‚ food and poor care led to him developing severe dehydration‚ kidney problems and an "unnecessary" death at Mamelodi Hospital.

Former Gauteng Health MEC Qedani Mahlangu and director of mental health in Gauteng province Makgoba Manamela forced Life Esidimeni psychiatric patients into ill-equipped NGOs. Jaco Stolts was but one "casualty" of this move‚ his sister said.

Stolts lived at the Cullinan Care and Rehabilitation Home for 18 years‚ but in May last year‚ he was "sacrificed" to make way for Life Esidimeni patients and moved into an NGO on the centre's premises‚ De Villiers said.

On a visit there‚ when her brother drank two litres of Coke and was still thirsty afterwards‚ she realised something was wrong.

De Villiers organised with Solidarity trade union to donate food‚ linen‚ clothes‚ and other donations‚ including a washing machine‚ to the ill-equipped NGO.

A few weeks later‚ without her knowledge‚ Stolts was moved back to an overcrowded Cullinan Care and Rehabilitation Centre‚ which was by now bursting at the seams with Life Esidimeni patients.

De Villiers recalled that when she visited Jaco‚ she would buy him slippers and warm clothes‚ but the shoes would disappear.

In September‚ when she noticed how sick he was and heard him coughing‚ she took him to a private doctor because there was "never a state doctor at Cullinan Care Rehabilitation Centre".

De Villiers said her brother said he was being hit‚ but was too scared to tell her who hit him.

Doctors found marks and injuries on his body and said he was dehydrated and malnourished‚ and had very high blood sugar. He was given a prescription.

De Villiers returned him to the centre.

"He was crying‚ saying‚ ‘Don’t leave me here.’ I felt like I was leaving him in a jail‚" she said.

Soon after that she visited and found her brother in a wheelchair.

When she asked how he had deteriorated‚ she said the nurses told her not to be emotional.

"How can I not be emotional? He is my brother‚" she retorted.

He was admitted to hospital on October 4‚ the same day De Villiers says she had been told on the phone by nurses he was better.

He was diagnosed in hospital with severe dehydration and kidney damage. He died in hospital ten days later.

No one has been charged with his death‚ and the police have not communicated with her‚ she alleges.

"I want justice to be served. You can't put a price tag on someone's life‚" De Villiers said.

De Villiers says she still wonders about a child she got to know at the Cullinan Care and Rehabilitation Centre.

"He would take my hand and call me ‘Mommy’. He would kiss me and hug me and I wonder if he is still alive."