The entrance to Matikwana Hospital where the tainted blood specimen was supposedly stolen
It is a story that shocked the approximately one million population of Bushbuckridge in Mpumalanga. People discuss it in taxis, in muted tones while some openly make their opinions known. In the same state of shock was the whole nation of 45 million. A 33-year-old nurse, Pinky Phindile Mabuza who was working at Matikwana Hospital in Mkhuhlu was arrested for allegedly injecting with HIV contaminated blood her four year old step-son. Mabuza's now 35 years old and her husband, who she's reportedly still married to is 32 years old.
"She was disrespectful from the moment she was introduced to the family as a makoti (sister-in-law). There was a situation of a family occassion planned many months earlier where she was not supposed to be part of even though her husband was party to that. She refused point blank to be excluded, insisting that she wanted to go as well. That's when we realised that she was not good for the family, let alone the husband", says a very close family source who will not be named. The family lived in Mkhuhlu, an affluent township next to Hazyview that's made up of largely xiTsonga and siSwatin speaking residents.
The source says that the family concluded that much of their in-law's arrogance came from the fact that she was two years older than her husband, who had a baby with another woman, before he met the nurse. "She never regarded anyone as senior, and had no respect for her parents in-law". It was surprising given that the nurse came from a sparsley populated rural area of Madjembeni between Acornhoek and Bushbuckridge.
The events preceding that fateful day in January 2004 are forever etched in the memory of the young boy's family. "It was a Friday afternoon somewhere in August 2003 when he wanted to visit his father who lives around the same area in Mkhuhlu. He had invited him to come even thought the four years old boy was complaining of flu. When he came back he told his mother that his stepmother has injected something into him. Even though the boy was ill she got worried because the boy never mentioned being taken to any doctor or hospital where the medicine was administered. That's when she wanted to know what it was", the source disclosed. The biological mother lives not very far from Mkhuhlu a the village of Songeni.
And that's where the suspision started. However the nurse, the fourth child in a family of seven was not the type that could hurt anyone. A close relative of the nurse says that, "She is a very sweet person, not that arrogant and down to earth. She loves encouraging people to focus on education and that's also why she was taking her siblings to nursing colleges to become nurses. She's actually warm and a free spirit". The nurse started her school at Madjembeni Primary School in Shatale and moved on to Sidlamakhosi High School. She and her close friend both went into nursing after their matric. "The one thing I can assure you about her is that she doesn't take anything lying down", the source added.
What might have worried the biological mother of the boy could be that the nurse had a child by a man who teaches at Madjembeni before she met her husband. She was not staying with her own child after she was married and her being concerned about the welfare and health of her husband's out of wedlock child was suspisious.
"The boy said that he had been injected more than once, probably when he went to visit his father, and we failed to trace the medication, that's when it was decided that it should be reported to the police", the source says. The biological mother immediately took her son to a doctor where he tested negative only for the virus to start showing itself three months later during another routine test. That's when it clicked.
"This was a very difficult case because what we had to establish first was whether the boy had indeed been injected or he was just lying, because he might not be fond of the stepmother", SAPS Mopani Policing Area spokesperson Captain Moatshe Ngoepe takes up the story. He says for them the case was similar to those seen on television's Medical Detectives, and lest his reluctance to disclose the name of the investigating officer and the exact methods used to crack the case. "After establishing that he had indeed been injected we had to find out with what? We were always privvy to the boy saying things out of hate for the stepmother. So we allocated the case to someone I'll call the best investigator in the country, providing him with regular supervision from the Mkhuhlu Police commandeering officer. When we took it to the prosecutor, he was convinced there was a case", Ngoepe adds. The police had to call experts to help build the case.
That certainty led to the nurse being arrested on 17 January 2004 for injecting her stepson with HIV-contaminated blood. "That came as a shock to us. We were all surprised. We knew she was a type that does not take things lying down but her doing that was impossible for us", says the family source, citing the nurse's love for the child she had with her ex-boyfriend. She was granted a bail of R1500 and her case postponed to February 24, 2004.
"We were not that surprised but disappointed. The man has always tagged along. First he lives on a plot owned by the woman who's older than him, who controls him and we were not even surprised when he seemed to take her side in the whole things against his own family", the source went on. The source says that they were not interested in finding out where she might have found the contaminated blood as there were many AIDS patients at Matikwana but why would she choose the young boy to inject.
In the meantime spokesperson for Limpopo Department of Health Mr Phuti Seloba promised that the nurse will be scrapped off the Nursing Council if she is found guilty. Meanwhile an internal Disciplinary Hearing at Matikwana Hospital where she is reported to have accessed the contaminated blood found her not guilty of any wrongdoing. "There were times when the case was nearly struck off the court roll since there were fears of malicious prosecution. It was difficult to proceed with prosecution while it was questioned why do it without any further evidence", Ngoepe says. He says that's when they engaged the Department of Health and the family thoroughly. "They were of assistance, we adopted a cluster approach. They assisted with technical details very aware that we are part of one government that is dedicated to fighting crime head on. The family was such a help in that they never lost faith and withdrew the case. We went to them time and again", he says. The boy testified on close circuit camera and helped the state case in that he told the court he was injected with 'red liquid'.
"Since the father was not much of a help they came to us to asking questions like how did the couple meet, how was their relationship and to their relationship to the family. I think they were professional in their approach", says the source who says since the judgment was given at the Mkhuhlu Magistrate Court finding the accused guilty of attempted murder, while it has driven a wedge between the family, it has however brought them together in their quest for justice.
Kasiekulture asked them what is their definition of justice when the nurse has been found guilty of attempted murder, a charge that carries a lighter sentence while the worse might happen while she is serving time of after she has served her sentence. "There is no amount of sentence that can heal the pain. After sentencing we will hold to the belief that things will turn out fine and we will look to God and leave everything in his hands". The source refused to be drawn into whether they will consider pursuing further charges in the event of the now six year old boy who is in Grade R dying.
Mpumalanga Department of Health spokesperson, under which Matikwana now falls Mr Mpho Gabashane said, "We'll await the sentencing and study all court material before we made our decision. We'll also check the legal provisions of the Nursing Council and how they express themselves into the matter. We will analyse all the evidence brought in the court of law, aware of what happened the last time the hospital tried to bring her to account". Gabashane did not rule out further charges pertaining from how she managed to get her hands on a contaminated blood.
"The South African Nursing Council is committed to the fight against HIV/AIDS. The South African Nursing Council pledges its commitment to the fight aginst HIV/AIDS. The Council is entrusted by Parliament with the responsibility of ensuring the protection of the public and will do everything in its power to make sure that HIV/AIDS patients get the care they deserve", this statement is part of the SANC HIV/AIDS Policy.
Both families are awaiting the judgment with abated breaths, for different reasons. "The investigation was technical and silent, it needed experts in the field of medicine to link the suspect to the evidence, maintaining the case on the roll which meant using the best detectives and consulting the family time and again. South Africa can rest assured that it has iron detectives", concluded Ngoepe, arguing that the full details will not be made public because "it will empower criminals to act wisely next time".
The Department of Health is waiting for evidence, while the people of Bushbuckridge and South Africa want to see justice done. And whether it will be justice enough, given the deteroriating health of the six year old boy - still has to be seen.
UPDATE: Phindile Mabuza, was early this month sentenced to a 5 years prison term with an option of a R10 000 fine. Maybe there was justice done. Or maybe don't. But us here at Kasiekulture would like to differ and come out to voice what we feel about the sentence. A serious miscarriage of justice and an unrewarding exercise for the young boy - who is waiting for his date with death.