Couple's nightmare journey to help sick baby

Lockdown regulations specify that people can travel freely to see a doctor or visit a pharmacy.
Lockdown regulations specify that people can travel freely to see a doctor or visit a pharmacy.
Image: Elvis Ntombela

A rural couple taking their sick infant to a family doctor turned to the Matatiele mayor in desperation for help after they were refused entry into the town by police at a roadblock on Monday.

The couple, Monwabisi Mafunda, 63, and his wife Mbali, 33, were told to phone an ambulance to fetch them or get a permit from their ward councillor.

The next few hours proved to be the stuff of nightmares as the infant’s temperature continued to rise. Mbali was also not feeling well, and needed medical attention.

Lockdown regulations specify that people can travel freely to see a doctor or visit a pharmacy.

Mbali said the infant, who is turning six weeks old on Friday, and had been delivered prematurely via a C-section, had started “burning up” and experienced difficulties when breathing on Sunday night.

“We couldn’t sleep the whole night and had no choice but to take her to see a doctor on Monday morning,” she said.

“I have also been experiencing unbearable pain in my body since I gave birth and was also going to get medical help. My husband also had to fetch his chronic medication.”

After driving nearly 20km from their rural home in Caba-Mdeni village, the couple and their infant daughter were stopped at the roadblock near Matatiele.

Mbali said despite telling the police that their child needed urgent medical attention, they were told they could not go into town because of the 21-day national lockdown. She took the child’s temperature with a thermometer and found this had increased to 40°C.

The couple eventually did call an ambulance, but it never arrived.

“We waited for more than an hour while the baby’s temperature continued to rise,” Mbali said.

They then decided to drive back to their village to get a permit from their ward councillor’s house.

But when they arrived, they found “hundreds” of people waiting at a community hall to get permits from the councillor.

That was not the end of the saga, however.

At that point, Mbali said, police had arrived and  “took the councillor away”, accusing her of selling permits to a person who did not even stay in the village.

Ward 10 councillor Nokwanda Sambane said she had not issued a single permit when police stormed a community hall full of people who were there to ask for permits.

But police took away her municipal-issue stamp and fewer than 50 copies of blank permit forms.

She said she was taken away and driven to the roadblock, where she was accused of accepting bribes in exchange for permits. But when they showed her an image of a permit on a phone, she told them the signature was that of a councillor from another ward.

“We use the same stamp but the difference is with the names and signatures of each councillor.”

Because the couple were desperate, after lunchtime on Monday they decided to drive back to Matatiele  and this time they were allowed to pass through the roadblock. But when they got there they were told the doctor had already left.

“We were not told that we needed to get permits to go see a doctor. On television, the government has been saying that people who need medical help or go to town to buy food will not be turned away,” Mbali said.

Monwabisi said he had then  phoned Matatiele mayor Momelezi Mbedla for help once the couple were home.

The couple eventually managed to take their child to  the doctor on Tuesday, when they discovered she was suffering from fever and dehydration. Mbali’s stitches from her C-section had become septic.

Monwabisi went to lay a formal complaint against the police at the Maluti police station on Tuesday but was not given a case number as the computers were down.

He said he had received a call from the station on Wednesday telling him to return for a case number on Thursday morning.

Mbedla confirmed receiving a call from the Mafundas and engaging police management in the area.

He said “I tried to speak to the police after a teleconference call with the [Eastern Cape] premier [Oscar Mabuyane] where the [police] provincial commissioner [Lt-Gen Liziwe Ntshinga] clarified the situation regarding the issuing of permits.

“It was made clear that people do not need permits to seek medical help or buy essentials like food.”

Provincial police spokesperson Col Sibongile Soci declined to comment and asked to forward her questions which she would send to the national police communication office which dealt with all matters relating to Covid-19 and the lockdown.

A response had not been received by print deadline.


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