The Case of Shonisani Lethole

The Case of Shonisani Lethole

by Kevin Naidoo                              Posted: 2020/07/12

The circumstances surrounding Shoni's death have raised questions about the treatment of Covid patients in public hospitals.

Last week saw the death of Johannesburg resident Shonisani Lethole at the Tembisa Hospital in Ekurhuleni. Quarantined at the hospital with COVID-19, you would easily believe Shoni, as he is known to his friends, to be just another of the ever-growing number of COVID-19 victims in the country. Except that there are many questions that remain after his passing on the 29th of June 2020, questions that have not only cast doubt on the circumstances of and reasons for his death, but questions that have also eroded trust in our country’s response to the global pandemic.

What raised concerns amongst friends and family was this simple Tweet, not angry and demanding, but seemingly desperate.

It was posted to the Minster of Health five days before Shoni’s passing. It was subsequently reported that his father, Albert Lethole, had had to take food to his son after he complained about being hungry. This was only possible after pleading with one of the nurses to take the food to his son.

It has also now come to light that, allegedly, he was put into the COVID-19 ward before his COVID-19 test results were received. Furthermore, it appears that he did not have any blankets, this in the middle of winter.

Now, issues with the South African public health care system have been well known, such as the Life Healthcare Esidimeni tragedy, where 143 people at psychiatric facilities died from causes including starvation and neglect. What makes this case different though is the times we are living in and Shoni himself.

Shoni was a much-loved entrepreneur and businessperson, whose passion for assisting entrepreneurs, his work in the music industry, and his positive and humble nature made him many friends. This gave Shoni something that many people who visit our public health facilities often do not have - agency.

This agency led to him making the decision to tweet our Minister of Health and feel that his apparent neglect could be taken seriously. And his network of friends and business associates meant that the circumstances of his passing and the conditions he underwent would have a far larger audience than many of those that make use of our public health institutions. This begs the question - how many people that have wanted to complain, that are possibly suffering right now, are being heard?

The COVID-19 virus has also meant that those in hospital with the virus have had to be in quarantine, with family members and friends being unable to visit or assist patients. This has put the state in an absolute position of control, both in being the sole provider of care for patients and in monitoring the activity that happens at our state health institutions, without members of the public or civil society having any means of oversight into the actual happenings.

The Gauteng Health Department (and the Minister of Health) has subsequently assured us that an investigation has been undertaken and that Shoni was indeed well taken care of and fed. While the full details of the investigation are pending (they have agreed, rightly so, with the family to only release the full details after the funeral), the bigger question and fear that remains for many is, do we really trust government to do what is right and required, without any external oversight from broader society? Especially when the cost of not managing the current crisis well could have a disastrous impact for the entire country.

The circumstances surrounding Shoni's death have raised questions about the treatment of Covid patients in public hospitals.



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