Family of 'kind and loving man' being sought so he can have a proper funeral
The family of a displaced elderly man is being sought by a Witbank woman who helped ensure he was cared for before he died of complications from a brain tumour.
If she fails to track the family down, he will be buried as an anonymous person by the state.
Maureen Scheepers, told TimesLIVE of the two months she had spent with Mushiwe Madala Sithole, where he became part of her close-knit community after she found him unconscious and disorientated, lying on the open field near Vosman, Mpumalanga, in September.
Scheepers and local pastor Nadine van Schalkwyk had just finished their weekly routine of feeding the less privileged in the area on September 22, when they came across Sithole.
“As we were leaving the area, we saw him lying in the field. I went to check on him and initially thought he was dead, but he responded and we took him to the Vosman police station,” said Scheepers. Police said they could not take him in because there was no criminal case to be investigated.
Scheepers, who at the time did not even know Sithole’s name, rushed him to the Witbank Hospital. There, they were turned away too as, without Sithole detailing whether there was anything wrong with him, the hospital said it could not help.
She approached a local family to ask whether they could take him in. Edith Ngwenya, who lives with her five young children, agreed to take him in. “When I went back the next day, he looked like a completely different person. After being given food and water, he was much better and he even remembered me from the previous day. He thanked us for taking care of him,” said Scheepers.
The Ngwenya family agreed to live with the man they came to know as Mr Sithole while Scheepers embarked on a mission to find his family. He appeared to be suffering from dementia or Alzheimer's disease.
During this time, Sithole became part of their family, with Ngwenya’s children celebrating him as the grandfather they did not have.
“He didn’t seem to know why he was in Witbank but he knew that Witbank was on route to Nelspruit. He told us that he was from KwaThema or Duduza in Springs but said he was originally from Bushbuckridge where, back in the day, his family worked on a peanut farm,” said Scheepers.
She tried everything to find his family, turning first to local authorities.
They ran his fingerprints on the database but as he seemingly had no previous arrests, the results came back without a hit. Scheepers turned her focus on home affairs.
“The home affairs in Witbank was very helpful but they informed me they needed to send the prints to Pretoria. They informed me, however, that there has been a backlog,” said Scheepers. This meant it could take a long time before any results were returned.
As the days turned into weeks, and the weeks into months, Sithole grew closer with the local community and the family. He celebrated the birthday of one of the children and even attended the local church.
“Whenever he saw me, he would ask if we were going to church,” said Scheepers.
“He would also give us a few names whenever we spoke to him. He would tell us that his wife is Nomsa Ndobela and that his children were Collen and Sarah Sithole. He was adamant he came from Kwa-Themba or Duduza. He also seemed to know his birthday. He said he was born in 1958 on the 28th of May,” Scheepers said.
“He kept saying that his son visited him all the time and he kept wondering why his son had not come over since he had been there,” Scheepers said.
Early in November, Sithole collapsed while at home with the Ngwenya family. He was rushed to hospital.
“A brain scan was conducted and he was found to have had a massive tumour that was pressing on his brain. They said the tumour was growing. He went in for an operation to relieve the pressure on his brain,” Scheepers said. However, two days later, Sithole died.
“His body is being kept at the mortuary at the Witbank police station. It will be kept there for 30 days and if no-one comes forward by December 9 2020, he will be buried as a John Doe.
“He was such a man of God. Such a kind and loving man and I believe someone is most probably looking for him,” Scheepers said. “I know funerals are important, especially for African people, and I am sure they would like to give him a proper send-off,” she added.
After news of Sithole’s passing, local community members gathered for his memorial service. Scheepers said members of all walks of life attended the service.
One of the Ngwenya children gave an emotional speech.
“I thank God for giving me someone like him. I got a chance to have someone like him in my life ... He was the kindest person. Whenever my brothers and I would fight, he would tell us about stories in the Bible. I miss him so much,” the young boy said, breaking down in tears.
“I thank God for giving him to me and my family,” he added.
Scheepers said the two months they spent with Sithole were priceless and they grew to love him.
She said, looking back, it seemed as though Sithole had not been displaced for long when he was found.
“He was wearing blue overalls and a red shirt. He just seemed highly dehydrated. It’s possible that he may have got on a wrong taxi and then got off on the side of the road near Vosman,” Scheepers said.
She felt compelled to find his family.
“I am sad I couldn’t reunite him with his family while he was still alive but it is my goal to reconnect him with them all the same.”
If you have any details that could help Maureen Scheepers to locate Sithole's family, e-mail our reporter or call her on 082 565 6770.
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