WATCH | Emotional father details how electricity blackout led to his daughter's death

Unreliable power supply in northwestern Joburg — not just load-shedding but frequent, lengthy faults — blamed for death of three-year-old Neyamiah Eaton

30 May 2023 - 11:34 By Zukile Daniel
subscribe Support independent journalism. Subscribe to our digital news package for R80 p/m.
Subscribe now

Three-year old Neyamiah Eaton woke up struggling to breathe on Thursday morning, her father Curwyn Eaton said in a recorded conversation with TimesLIVE Video.

Speaking to the Sunday Times this week, Eaton said his and Sunera James' only child was diagnosed with Woree syndrome at birth. It is a rare neuro-developmental disorder that causes drug-resistant epilepsy and poor developmental outcomes.

“We had her running on oxygen at the time. Her stats were not too low. But we increased her oxygen machine which brought up her stats, then she was in a comfortable space. She slept but when she woke up again she was unhappy. We knew ... load-shedding was supposed to be at 10am that morning, but the lights just cut off at 8am,” he said.

Eaton and James blame City Power for not adequately warning residents of Bromhof, northwestern Johannesburg, about scheduled maintenance which left them without electricity for eight hours.

“We had to now scramble and just change her over from the oxygen machine onto the oxygen tank because the machine that we have is quite a strong one — it has to be plugged into the wall. And so it drains the inverters a lot. But the oxygen tank is not as strong as the machine in terms of oxygen flow. So we then decided we're just going to rush to the hospital and try to get her to professionals. We put her in the car with the oxygen tank and her mum sat with her at the back with the tank and I drove.

“As I was driving, her mother just started saying, 'Oh, she's looking grey. Now she doesn't look like she's breathing.' And she started getting hysterical.

“I was speeding at the time to the hospital, just trying to get there. And, you know, you've got these two things running through your mind — you don't know if you must stop and do mouth-to-mouth resuscitation or try to get to the professionals at the hospital.

“So we tried to get her there as soon as possible, but we were not in time. The hospital tried for about 20 minutes or so to try to resuscitate her. But yeah, I think it was too late.” 

Eaton said the unreliable electricity supply — not just load-shedding but frequent, lengthy faults — saw the couple juggling Neyamiah's care between the oxygen machine and backup oxygen cylinder.

“Previously when she was discharged, we had to keep her on oxygen, so we were alternating between oxygen machine and the oxygen tank, you know, just because our load-shedding hours were a lot, sometimes going off four times a day, sometimes for four and a half hours,” he said.

On Monday Build One South Africa (Bosa) leader Mmusi Maimane opened a case of culpable homicide against Pravin Gordhan and electricity minister Kgosientsho Ramokgopa for the three-year-old's death. Other prominent figures have approached Eaton to take the matter to the courts.

“With all the support and all the leaders that have contacted us and asked us to to be part of something greater, I may possibly look into it. But I will sit down with people after the funeral because that's most important. But after that, if I can assist people of South Africa, then I'm willing to fight,” Eaton said.

“We just want to try and make sure that after all this is over and we've done the funeral and stuff, we assist other South Africans. And if she can be the light for South Africans, then we're going to try and fight as hard as we can just to get some change done so that we possibly can save other kids and elderly people — and just people with issues that's really dependent on power to survive.

“I don't know if they [authorities] do not understand this, but there's a lot [of people with similar problems]. So we just hope that things like this just wake them up, you know?

“I'm unsure as yet. It wasn't our plan to [speak to] any media or to [take]  any legal action. We are just trying to cope ... We've actually just been trying to keep busy. So just being around family and friends, and just get keeping busy, was the No 1 thing for me — just to try to keep my mind sane, if I can put it that way.”


Support independent journalism by subscribing to the Sunday Times. Just R20 for the first month.

subscribe Support independent journalism. Subscribe to our digital news package for R80 p/m.
Subscribe now

Would you like to comment on this article?
Sign up (it's quick and free) or sign in now.

Speech Bubbles

Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.