Nightmare in Ermelo

Nightmare in Ermelo

Pelu Hlatswayo and her mentally challenged grandson, S’busiso. Pelu’s pension barely keeps the family going, but bureaucracy and administrative hurdles means she can’t access a grant for her grandson.
Pelu Hlatswayo and her mentally challenged grandson, S’busiso. Pelu’s pension barely keeps the family going, but bureaucracy and administrative hurdles means she can’t access a grant for her grandson.
(Photo by Ufrieda Ho)

It’s gogos and social grant money that prop up many households in Khayelitsha township, outside of Ermelo. It’s true for Pelu Hlatswayo. She doesn’t know how old she is, but she knows she’s the only adult responsible for three children, including two of her grandchildren. One of them is S’busisio (28) who is mentally challenged. He used to be a patient at the Ermelo Hospital but in September last year hospital staff told Pelu they no longer had a file for him and Pelu was sent home.

The confusion and the paperwork nightmare that she faced was more than Pelu could manage. She didn’t take S’busiso back for visits with the doctors and hasn’t been back for over six months. More importantly for Pelu, without the file and a medical record from the hospital she can’t start the process to get a disability grant for S’busiso. “My pension is not enough,” she says, settling down on a mat she has spread on the floor in her home. It’s electricity and food that she says are her biggest expenses. The room she sits in is warmed by a coal stove.

There is a single naked globe that dangles from the ceiling. But when the pre-paid electricity runs out for the month then there is nothing left till another pension grant payout period rolls round. “When S’busiso doesn’t get medicines he doesn’t talk, he goes very quiet,” she says. S’busiso listens to his gran when she tells him to sit on the floor with her. He gazes up at the ceiling, laughing and smiling to himself. He doesn’t speak much and is not communicative to anyone in the room. “I don’t know what to do, these children don’t have a mother or a father,” she says.

The last medical files she had for S’busiso are from the Swaziland Provincial Hospital. S’busiso went missing for about three years between 2011 and the beginning of 2013. When he resurfaced and was reunited with his granny he had the medical files with him. In the file are records of the medicines he was given and the diagnosis made by the Swazi doctors. Pelu held on to these as she had S’busiso enrolled as psychiatric patient at the Ermelo Hospital. The Swazi file could be a starting point to get S’busiso’s readmitted as a patient. It could also help to start the process of getting the much-needed grant, but Pelu has no idea where to begin. Without access to information, a lack of guidance and awareness of her or S’busiso’s rights, he will go without the medical attention he needs and Pelu has to work even harder to maker her pension grant go further.