Family chains mentally ill man for ‘safety’

It’s 7 o’clock in the morning in Mqwangqweni Village outside Flagstaff where mentally challenged Lwanda Flatela gobbles down his bowl of soft porridge using only one hand.  He sits in the corner of a dark room wearing soiled clothes, his other hand is chained to his bed. The smell of urine and faeces is strong.

Zoliswa Flatela (20), Lwanda’s a younger sister, cries as she explains the situation.

“It is the biggest challenge to look after a mentally and physically challenged family member. Especially now that our grandmother has passed away and he has become my responsibility. Our mother passed away in 2005 after a long illness.”

She said Lwanda used to wander around freely, and the family would return home at sunset and have to search for him.

“Sometimes we found him in the road or close to the river. Sometimes he goes to surrounding villages and we end up going to bed, not knowing where he is.  The saddest part is we once found him lying next to a dirt road near town with bruises all over his body – like he had been chained to a car and dragged down the road. Another time he was full of bruises like he was whipped with a sjambok.”

The medication he receives from Holy Cross Hospital did not appear to be helping, and so the family now felt that chaining him up for his own safety was the best option available.

Zoliswa said her brother would sometimes leave in the middle of the night. The medication he receives from Holy Cross Hospital did not appear to be helping, and so the family now felt that chaining him up for his own safety was the best option available.

“Granny was the only one who understood Lwanda. I am younger than him, and he beats me when I try to bath him.”


Disabled People of South Africa, who have been informed of the situation, has condemned the mistreatment of people living with disabilities.  

“I am shocked that there are cases of this nature. We conduct campaigns educating people on how to properly look after disabled people. People with disabilities must be accorded the same social rights as all other people in society. These include the right to education, healthcare, housing, transport, sport, recreation, culture, social development services, food security and family life,” said Nomfundiso Gagayi, deputy chairperson of the Eastern Cape branch of Disabled People of South Africa (DPSA).

She said the organisation was extremely concerned about the manner in which Flatela was being cared for.

“We will intervene in this matter and ensure that the man is taken to a home to be properly looked after by trained health care workers.  We will visit Lwanda’s home to assess the situation to decide with the family whether a family member can be trained to look after him, or if he should be taken to a home for the mentally challenged,” Gagayi said.

According to Social Development OR Tambo district spokesperson Nomasakhe Nonxuba, social workers will be sent to Lwanda’s home assess the situation and report back to the Department of Health, who will play a role assessing his medical condition.

Psychologist Dr Sekela Swana said chaining Flatela was harmful – even if it was being done for his safety. Mental disorder has levels of mental retardation, ranging from mild to severe. He needs to be checked to determine the severity of his case.  In this case, structures within the community and in government have to work together to ensure that his dignity is maintained.


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