Nine-year-old Fikane Mthuli lies like a baby on his mother Cynthia’s lap. The third of four children, he is unable to speak, sit or do anything that other children his age can do because of complications at birth that were entirely preventable.
“I love him very much,” says his mother as she wipes the drool off Fikane’s face.
We are sitting in her modest brick house in Tsakane township, Ekurhuleni.
“He goes everywhere with me. I carry him on my back.” Two weeks ago, computers at the offices of the Gauteng department of health were removed by the sheriff of the court after the department failed to comply with the payment agreement it had reached with Mthuli’s attorney, Olof Joubert.
The agreement was reached as a settlement payment related to the brain damage Fikane suffered at the hands of negligent hospital staff. The department has also been implicated for not paying out in three other cases.
Last week, Joubert said: “The department approached me to sign a payment agreement, in terms of which the settlement amount for my client’s damages could be paid in two instalments. They made one payment for one of my other clients, and then nothing. Until now, they have also not responded to my communication.
“Although the damage can never be repaired, these children and their parents deserve at least a chance for a better life.”
On Wednesday, DA Gauteng health spokesperson Jack Bloom said that, because the department did not meet its payment obligations even after the computers were attached, the sheriff this week served a warrant of execution on its 14 FNB accounts to recover R33.7 million, plus an additional 10.5% penalty fee for late payment.
The amount includes damages awarded to Joubert’s four clients whose children suffered brain damage at birth.
Fikane was born on January 25 2008. Cynthia proudly displays his baby photos, but soon after, reality intrudes as she says sadly: “When I see other children his age, it breaks my heart that he cannot run and play.”
Cynthia spent five days in labour and was transferred from a government clinic to Pholosong Hospital, near Brakpan. She was seen by, among others, two doctors, who induced her twice. At one point, she began bleeding profusely and vomiting, but the nurses told her she was wasting their time.
When Fikane was born, he did not make a sound. He spent three weeks in the hospital’s high-care unit. When he was six months old, his parents became concerned about his development. Tests showed he had brain damage.
Jessie Makhoba’s son Sipho (11) also sustained brain damage at birth. Makhoba was supposed to deliver her baby by Caesarean section, but staff at Pholosong Hospital refused and, instead, Sipho was removed with forceps. He sustained serious head injuries and suffered from a shortage of oxygen. Unlike Fikane, Sipho can walk, but he cannot talk.
“He is my everything. I just have too much love for him,” says Makhoba, tears running down her cheeks.
“There is a school for special children nearby. He goes there when I am working. But, aside from that, he is always with me. I have to do everything for him.”
The court ruled that Makhoba and Mthuli be awarded R18 million each and that the amount be placed in trust for their children. Makhoba, who is the breadwinner in the family and receives a monthly social grant of R380 for Sipho, has not received a cent from government. Mthuli’s lawyer has so far been paid R4.1 million of the total.
Joubert said: “The worst is that the parents and their baby are sent home after birth as if nothing is wrong, until they learn the truth months later. Most of the children have cerebral palsy and cannot talk, walk, sit or crawl. They need 24-hour care as well as special
SMILING THROUGH THE PAIN Fikane Mthuli sits on his mother Cynthia’s lap, while his little sister Nomasondo (5) looks on
DOTING MUM Sipho Makhoba and his mother Jessie, who refers to him as ‘my everything’