The management and care practices at a home for the mentally and intellectually challenged in Grassy Park have been questioned following a fatal incident that left one man dead and another admitted to Valkenberg Psychiatric Hospital.
Now the family of Herman de Wet, 55, want answers about the events that led to the death of their brother.
Herman was mentally disabled and, according to his family, had the mental capacity of a two year old.
He was brought to the Grassy Park Centre, which was previously known as the Fisherhaven Centre, by his family in 2009 in the hopes that he would be better cared for.
However, on Wednesday December 6 last year, Herman sustained injuries allegedly at the hands of a fellow resident, which left him unconscious and on life support for 10 days. He died from his injuries on Saturday December 16.
Herman had been found with a head wound in one of the rooms of the facility in Victoria Road, Grassy Park.
Richard de Wet claims his brother was left in a room alone with one of the other residents who they believe had a record of violence.
“The manager told us that on the day my brother was assaulted they heard a scream from the rooms upstairs.
“When they went up they found him in a pool of blood. I believe they argued over cigarettes,” said Mr De Wet.
He believes his brother was left unattended with the man who assaulted him.
“They were left to their own devices and that is why my brother was beaten up so badly that he was left in a coma.
This is the last thing we expected because we sent him there thinking that he is in good hands only for him to be beaten and killed in such a manner at a place that is supposed to be a safe haven,” said Mr de Wet.
Mr De Wet also claims that Grassy Park police did not do a thorough investigation into the case and did not initially open a case of assault.
“We went to the police to lay a charge and they gave us a form to take to the hospital. Not too long after my brother was dead and automatically a case of murder was opened. There was not a thorough investigation and no statements taken,” he said.
“My elderly mother and I visited him the Monday before he was assaulted not knowing it would be the last time we saw him conscious. My question is what is a psychiatric patient doing in a facility like that? They are not equipped to deal with people who have psychotic problems. My brother’s human rights were violated and we want justice for him and to make sure something like this does not happen to anyone else,” said Mr De Wet.
Dr Thomas Blake, chairperson of the Grassy Park Centre’s executive board, said the incident was unfortunate and tragic but added that the De Wet family was making wild allegations.
Some of the board members of the centre, Thomas Blake, Esme Kennel, Sakina Blake and Siva Moodley called a meeting on Thursday February 15 to respond to the allegations made by the family.
When Southern Mail attended the meeting a memorial service for Herman was being held at the facility to help residents from the centre who had been mourning his death.
Mr Blake said many residents and staff were left traumatised by the incident.
He said the dedicated staff were just as shocked by the incident as this was the first time something of the sort had happened at the facility.
Mr Blake added that on the day of the incident, at about 6pm, when the day staff were handing over to the night staff, a loud scream was heard from the dormitory where residents sleep. He denied that the two were alone in the room as claimed by the De Wet family.
Manager Surgrie Naidoo said there were 20 other people in the dormitory but said said no one could say what happened because no one saw the incident.
“The incident happened in a split second when staff had switched shifts. We called the police and ambulance and they were taken to Victoria Hospital. Herman thereafter was transferred to Groote Schuur and the suspect to Valkenberg Psychiatric hospital,” said Ms Naidoo.
Ms Kennel said the man accused of the assault was quiet and reserved while Herman was more of a talker.
“Herman used to provoke the other residents and swore a lot. We are not sure what transpired on the day because Herman and the accused lived together since Herman first joined eight years ago,” said Ms Kennel.
Ms Naidoo said Herman was well loved by staff and other residents but had episodes and was sometimes difficult to handle.
“We had to separate him from the others many times because he would swear and this made the others feel intimidated. So many times we put him in front of the building where he would sweep and open the gate for visitors. He was much calmer in front and he loved it. We will miss him dearly and he was a big part of our family,” said Ms Naidoo.
She added: “We depend heavily on donations because we do not get funding from government. It would be unfortunate if an incident that was beyond our control were to tarnish our reputation and cause us to close our doors. Where would that leave the other residents who we care for?”
Mr Blake said systems have been put in place to avoid any further similar incidents in the future.
The family responded by saying they are seeking legal advice.
“The board now want to blame a person that’s dead. What happened to him is unacceptable. Just because he swore makes it okay for him to be brutally murdered?” said Mr De Wet.
He added: “They want to portray him as the bad guy but he didn’t murder another person. The board showed no remorse for what happened to Herman and we will see them in court”.
Grassy Park police spokesperson Warrant Officer Wynita Kleinsmith confirmed a case of murder is being investigated .
“The suspect in the case has been admitted to Valkenberg Psychiatric and we can confirm that he is still there. The investigating officer in the case is awaiting the autopsy results,” said Warrant Officer Kleinsmith.
Responding to the claims by the De Wet family that an assault docket was not opened, Warrant Officer Kleinsmith said a docket for assault was opened at Woodstock police station because Herman had been admitted to Groote Schuur hospital. The charge was then changed into one of murder after Herman died and the case was transferred to Grassy Park police to investigate.