Takalani Home in Soweto is a home for children and adults with learning disabilities. During the Life Esidimeni move, dozens of psychiatric patients were transferred there. All photographs by Robin Hammond/Witness Change. Featured Image
In September 2016, Phumzile Motshegwa received a call from an unknown number. The woman on the end of the line said Motshegwa’s brother, Solly, was dead. His body was at a funeral parlour in Atteridgeville, a township in South Africa. Did she want to go and collect him? The address she gave was a disused butcher’s shop. When Motshegwa arrived, a man hosing down blood-stained floors handed her a pair of rubber gloves.
“Do you know your brother?” he asked.
“Yes,” she answered.
“Choose your brother, then.”
Motshegwa put on the gloves. Before her stood metal tables stacked high with decomposing corpses. “I counted 36 bodies,” she says. “I was shifting all these ladies and guys around until I saw Solly. I saw his head, I saw his scar, so I said, ‘This is my brother.’”
Solly had lived in hospital since a 1989 machete attack during political clashes left him brain damaged. He had been happy and healthy, and recently celebrated his 54th birthday. Now his body lay in front of her, emaciated and mutilated.