Losing Tamara: the TAC and MaDlamini head to parliament
MaDlamini tells the story bravely, she does not falter at any point in her narrative, and is happy to backtrack to fill in missing gaps she remembers as she goes along.
MaDlamini’s daughter looks just like her. She hands me a photo of a smiling girl in a red soccer jersey. ‘This is Tamara,’ she says fondly. ‘My Tamara was absolutely fine, but after the operation, she was never the same again,’ says MaDlamini.
In 2010 Tamara underwent an operation to ease the migraines she had been suffering from. A scan revealed that a cyst on her brain that was the cause of her migraines and she was admitted to Khayelitsha Day Hospital to undergo surgery.
A day later, MaDlamini was surprised when she arrived at the hospital and found Tamara, who had just come out of surgery, in a normal ward and apparently ready to be discharged. ‘It did not make sense to me at all, after such a huge operation I expected her to be in ICU to recover, but when I arrived they told me that she was being discharged.’
Tamara was in no state to leave the hospital as she was still semi-conscious. Despite this, nurses insisted that she was ready to go home. MaDlamini, demanded to see the doctor that had conducted the operation and she was told that he was not available as he had gone overseas. MaDlamini had come to visit Tamara after work, it was very late and she had not organised any transport to take her daughter home. She tried to explain this to the nurses and asked for a wheelchair, which she was denied, and she was told to hire a car to take her home.
MaDlamini took Tamara home, but she was not going to sit back. She decided to go to the media and tell them how her daughter had been treated.
She was interviewed by a local newspaper, and after the paper contacted hospital officials, MaDlamini received a call, begging her to not to publish the story, and rather to come in for a meeting to discuss a way to help Tamara. MaDlamini agreed to attend the meeting, but made it clear that she was still going to publish her story.
MaDlamini arrived at Khayelitsha Day Hospital and expected to see the doctor that operated on Tamara. Instead, she received an apology and was told that Tamara had been wrongly discharged and that she was to bring her back.
That should have been the end of her problems. It sounded like everything would be taken care of. The hospital was to fetch Tamara and take her to a facility of MaDlamini’s choice for rehabilitation. MaDlamini chose the facility that was nearest to her, and gave consent for Tamara to go. At this point, Madlamini thought that her daughter would be taken care of. But that was not the case. Tamara spent two days at the rehabilitation centre, but was not attended to at all. When MaDlamini would visit her hospital, the nurses would look at her and say, ‘Oh look, here comes the newspaper lady.’
For days, MaDlamini went back and forth between Khayelitsha Hospital and the rehabilitation centre trying to get someone to see to her daughter, but nobody was willing to assist her. She was given conflicting information about who was responsible for her daughter and where she would be attended to. And yet again, MaDlamini received a call one afternoon telling her to come and fetch Tamara as she was being discharged.
As before, Tamara was in no condition to be discharged. ‘My child did not look okay,’ recalls MaDlamini, ‘but what could I do? I started to dress her to take her home.’ When her mother undressed her, she found that Tamara had been severely beaten. Her body was covered in welts and bruises and her hip was broken. Tamara was disorientated unable to speak.
There was another patient sitting in the waiting room. MaDlamini asked her if she had seen what happened to Tamara. The lady told her that she didn’t know anything, but that whenever the nurses went to see Tamara, they would always close the curtains around her bed.
MaDlamini demanded to see the doctor: she wanted to know what had been done to her daughter, why and by whom. When the doctor came, his response was that Tamara had not been beaten, and that all the marks on her body were caused by the bed sheet.
MaDlamini throws her hands in front of her in exasperation. ‘How can a sheet leave such marks on a person?’ To this day, she still doesn’t understand.
Without any further explanations she was told to take her daughter home, as there was nothing else to be done for her. ‘I took Tamara home, and I did my best to take care of her, but she left us in April of this year.’
Despite being turned from pillar to post at the hospital, MaDlamini refused to give up. She wanted answers, she was not prepared to let her daughter die in vain. So MaDlamini turned to the TAC. The organisation intervened on her behalf, attending all meetings with her and making sure there was enough pressure on the hospital officials to conduct a full investigation as to what had really happened.
After countless meetings, and little support from the hospital, MaDlamini’s case was escalated to a portfolio committee in parliament. ‘I’ve been all the way to parliament about this case,’ she says.
MaDlamini is not ready to give up the fight. She pauses for a minute thinking about what it is that she really wants. ‘I lost Tamara, so I have already lost everything, but I want to know who was responsible,’ she says.
Mike Hamca, of TAC Khayelitsha has assisted MaDlamini throughout her case, and he is adamant that the truth will be revealed. Over the past few months, the TAC has been a pillar of strength for MaDlamini. It has stood up for her and encouraged her not to give up. ‘If it wasn’t for the TAC, I don’t know where I would be. I’m just a cleaner, and I have no money but the TAC didn’t look at that.’
An investigation is pending on the matter and MaDlamini is currently waiting to hear back from the portfolio committee that has taken up her case.