Sunday, January 27, 2008

2008. Post Apartheid: Fraser Esslemont's 1998 Sunnyside Farm Dispatch

Before leaving SA, I'd joked that in NZ we'd go on the dole, and I'd kick Leah out to work. True. We did go on the dole, and in 1998 after twenty years of marriage, with Leah not having worked for ten years bringing up our boys, I stopped work, and Leah became the breadwinner. Our roles reversed, and I became the homemaker, learning to cook.

I kept writing to Fraser at Town Hill madhouse, Pietermaritzburg. I posted this 27.08.98 letter to superintendent Dr. Ross: "I'm Fraser's nearest kin. I've written you several letters since I emigrated to NZ in 1995. Surely you and your staff would have had the professional integrity to reply to my letters during the more than three years I have lived in NZ?

I deduce from my returned letter to Fraser that Town Hill has moved Fraser to Sunnyside Farm, Bulwer. Town Hill did not have the professional courtesy to inform us, Fraser's family.


1. Justify Fraser's placement at Sunnyside Farm.
2. Forward Fraser's postal address to my address.

Town Hill's 'Sunnyside Farm, Natal' address on my returned letter is obviously useless / vague. The Town Hill forwarding address written by Town Hill on my recent letter to Fraser caused it to be returned to me."

No reply from Dr. Ross, who still played apartheid's "Fuck The Patient's Family" song.

After I contacted Fraser's curator, he apologetically informed me Fraser had been moved to Sunnyside Farm. I wondered how many of my letters and Fraser's letters had been lost, due to Town Hill's indifference? I was cross Town Hill madhouse had informed Fraser's curator, but not me, as Dr. Ross had stated in his letter years before that I'd be informed of Fraser's move. Like Vusi the Zulu sugarcane trucker who'd smashed Fraser, Dr. Ross had lied. And Town Hill's slackness confirmed my belief that madhouse keepers did not care about patients' families. And Fraser's rehabilitation at Town Hill was zilch.

20.09.98 Fraser's Sunnyside Farm dispatch: "I'm very pleased that youve got my latest address. My humblest apologies. Thank you for the bakery newsletter. Have you renewed your contract with them for 1999? [No. I was sacked at the 1997 Xmas party, after signing four temp work contracts. The bakery's excuse: cutting back staff]. Try not to join the unemployment que [sic] before the end of the millennium.

I do gardening on the farm, a lot of weeding and watering. Please send me information on mushroom planting in NZ. [I worked briefly at a Christchurch mushroom farm]. How it works in the foothills of the berg, I don't know. Its not easy Sunnyside farming, its harsh here. Id like to compare NZ notes to SA notes on mushrooms.

Im pleased to hear the Macs [Leah's parents] visited you. The trout fishing in Mnt. Cook area must be good. Im sure the Macs will visit NZ again. [They did].

The EL-NINO effects [sic] SA farmers too. Remember there was snow in the berg, all year round [false] - no more. Your dry period in NZ must take getting used to. You are doing better than myself in the vegetable patch. Your 2 boys sound very sporty and athletic. Shows your teacher training holds them in good stead. Well done! You are good at typing a lot of info. I need it for stimulation.

I realize you want to get NZ citizenship after living in NZ for 3 years. This would be difficult and costly. [Yes]. Being dual national for work & study purposes seems ideal. [We'd lose our SA citizenship, if we didn't first get written permission from SA for dual nationality].

Explain phonic approach to reading? There is no dictionary on this farm. Ive been out of circulation too long. SPELD seems quite a course for Leah to complete. Explain to her. Very well done.

Explain to Jake and Luke im delighted at their progress in sports & gymnastics. Mark, I think stay with bakery. People also need ditto. At Town Hill I learnt to knead doughnut dough. Patients also needed it for parties.

You will remember our snow skiing training from Westerndorf, Austria? I'd only try water skiing after my tendons were cut & shortened in 1988. Good luck in your NZ sign language. [I didn't learn much: boring and embarrassing]. Are there a lot of N. Zealanders who are deaf or mute?

Does it mean Jake & Luke finish school at 16? [No, 18]. They seem far ahead of SA students. Early in 1996, you thought N. Zealander's teaching system better than SA. Life memoirs sounds interesting. You went overseas a lot, including a working holiday around Europe, with Leah. [Worked in England, and toured Britain, and Eurailed Europe]. Also in Israel you worked on kibbutz Grofit.

Mark, It was the best possible move for me to leave hospital & go farming. After 13.01.95, the vacuum in my head was no more. Because scar tissue had formed. Now I work on my physical self on the farm. Building strength in my contracted right wrist. I do a lot of running to get tendon strength in both ankles. You won't be able to recognize me when we meet again. [Sadly, the iatrogenic wrist and ankle crippling was caused by Neuroleptic Malignant Syndrome at Durban's Addington Hospital, eleven years before].

Before 2010 Ill be able to get to New Zealand. I hope life goes well for you and your family."

Over eleven years, Fraser had moved from Durban's exclusive geriatrics' ward, to walled seclusion / exclusion / detention at Maritzburg's closed O ward and Impala forensic security block, to open-air exclusion at Sunnyside Farm. Wherever brain damaged Fraser went in KwaZulu-Natal, his carers isolated him from "normal" people.

Despite doing minimal rehabilitation, Fraser's carers were careful over the years to label Fraser in politically correct ways. Carers avoided labels like "mad, insane, retarded, brain damaged, crippled." At Sunnyside Farm, Fraser was no longer a patient, but an "intellectually disabled adult customer," or an "intellectually disabled adult client." Those pseudo psycho-business labels were dishonest and insulting to patients and their families, and masked vagueness and stonewalling I'd encountered over the years.

In 2008, my family and I considered applying for NZ citizenship, as we couldn't afford to during our first twelve years' NZ residence.

Copyright Mark JS Esslemont.

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