Sunday, January 6, 2008

2008. Apartheid Durban, 1987, April Fool Brain Damage

1 April 1987, late night: QwaQwa cops hammered on my front door, telling me Fraser had had an accident and was in Durban's Addington Hospital. I drove to Durban over 400 kays away. Arrival time: 04:30. None of Fraser's and my upbringing, education, travels, nor work experiences had prepared us for the medical and madhouse hell we would experience over many years in KwaZulu-Natal.

Fraser lay abed, comatose, brain-damaged, his left forehead bashed, his face a bloody mask, fixed by transparent goo, his right elbow smashed, the back of his right knee gashed.

Nurses periodically pinched Fraser's skin, plucked his eyelids open, shining torch-light into his blue eyes, checking for responses. None.

"Fraser wasn't drunk," a nurse said. "We checked his blood for alcohol. Cops identified Fraser because Fraser's ID book was inside his pocket. His ID book had phone numbers inside, so we phoned Fraser's friends."

"Fraser's mad," said Fraser's former tenant. "He stomped my phone and punched me." Ag shame. The precious tenant slagged off Fraser while Fraser lay comatose in hospital.

Verulam cops had found Fraser in a pool of blood on the side of Verulam main road embankment. Verulam cops drove Fraser to Osindesweni Hospital, where Fraser lay buggered, until an ambulance took him to Addington. Arrival time: 22.30.

Sugarcane trucker Vusi had told Verulam cops that Fraser had run down the embankment into Vusi's cane truck.

Impossible, as Fraser's injuries didn't signify that. And Fraser's blue beach buggy was missing.

There were no witnesses. It was State-of-Terror time, while thousands of Zulus were being killed in KwaZulu-Natal civil war. Fraser was just another bloody statistic.

The Durban North estate agent, buying Fraser's house, told me that Fraser had stormed off in his beach-buggy after her builder husband had told Fraser to leave.

"Why?" I Pig Dog barked.

"My husband was renovating the house and needed to get into the khaya."

"Was the house sale complete?"

"No. My husband paid Fraser a retainer to help him, and deadlined Fraser to leave."

"Your husband paid Fraser a retainer, and was renovating Fraser's house before signing transfer papers?"


I visited the estate agent's lawyer's office. A podgy Afrikaner sat amidst piles of dusty, manila folders. "When will you complete conveyancing Fraser's house sale?" I snarled.

"As soon as Fraser's well enough to sign transfer," he smirked.

Fraser's blue beach-buggy was never found. Someone was lying.

Jason opined: "Fraser drove to the top of the Verulam road embankment, admiring sugarcane views. Maybe he was panga- attacked by kaffirs. Hence the slash behind his knee. I think Fraser escaped murder by running down the embankment into Vusi's truck. His beach-buggy must've been stolen."

After ten days, Fraser emerged from his coma.

Nurses plucked out hundreds of stitches.

Fraser's face, hacked knee, broken skull and elbow healed, leaving red scars.

Fraser recovered fast, frenetically walking about Addington Hospital. His memory was bad. In pyjamas, Fraser wandered the beach to XL tearoom, to the aquarium, down West Street, back to Addington. Nurses hung a cardboard notice around his neck stating:


Every weekend for three months, I trekked from QwaQwa, down Oliviershoek Pass, to Durban, visiting Fraser. The round trip was 1000 kays.

Nurses shifted Fraser from the casualty ward to a drug addicts' recovery ward, where there was male-nurse control. Nurses then shifted Fraser to the geriatrics ward, also known as the psychiatric ward. Recovering Fraser walked about Durban beach front, chatting to Zulu bead sellers, physically active, but confused, returning to Addington for meals.

I received snotty letters from the conveyancer, pressuring me to persuade Fraser to sign transfer forms for Fraser's house sale. I wrote to him: "Fraser's brain-damaged in Addington. It'll be months before he recovers. What do you suggest?" He suggested I get a curator bonis lawyer for Fraser's financial affairs, but if I thought Fraser was compos mentis, I should persuade Fraser to sign transfer forms.

What a prick!

Doctors and nurses drugged Fraser to stabilize his damaged brain. They didn't tell me what drugs they gave Fraser. After some weeks, Fraser was healing nicely. He talked well, walked well, and was tanned due to his sunny, happy walks in Durbs.

Fraser scrawled an illegible signature on his house sale form. I wrote to the conveyancer: "You see Fraser's signature is illegible. Now what?"

The conveyancer suggested if I thought Fraser was compos mentis, I could persuade Fraser to put a cross or fingerprint on the forms. I could counter-sign the forms stating Fraser understood form contents and procedures.

Insulting to Fraser's brain-damage and my intelligence. I contacted an old school friend, partner in a Durban legal firm, asking him to be Fraser's curator bonis. I explained about Fraser's accident and harassment from the conveyancer. It took months of legal procedure for him to become Fraser's curator bonis. I never heard from the conveyancer again.

Older lawyers I'd contacted had suggested I get an elderly curator for Fraser. Getting Fraser a decent, young curator was one of the best decisions I made in my life. Over the years I realized that medical and psychiatric carers and lawyers avoided labels like "mad" and "lunatic" and "insane," and preferred jargon like, "unable to manage his affairs" when referring to madness or insanity.

Copyright Mark JS Esslemont.

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