“You are pregnant with twins,” Buyiselwa Daweti precisely remembers her doctor’s words. Delighted about being the second member of her family to conceive twins, Daweti’s dream to mother her offspring imploded after the same doctor administered a pill that allegedly led to her miscarriage.
Daweti was 43 in 2005, when gynaecologist Danie van der Walt allegedly instructed her to take a pill that she claims aborted her twins.
Daweti, who works as a national project manager at Eskom, welcomed New Frame into her home in Midrand one afternoon. She wrapped her blue apron around her waist and started preparing dinner for her son and granddaughter. Cooking remains one of her favourite things to do.
As Daweti began preparing dinner, she remembered how she first met Van der Walt. When she moved from Gauteng to Mpumalanga, her general practitioner referred her to the gynaecologist.
She said when Van der Walt informed her that she was carrying twins, she was elated. Van der Walt’s response to her excitement, however, was very peculiar, recalled Daweti.
“He said something funny. He said ‘Don’t be excited you don’t know what will happen’,” she said as she adjusted the strings of her apron.
Trust me, I’m a doctor
The doctor’s strange reaction did not stop Daweti from consulting with him and she even referred her pregnant 22-year-old daughter Pamela to him. But as she continued attending her scheduled appointments during her pregnancy, Van der Walt raised a concern about the state of her twins.
Van der Walt informed Daweti that the babies were not growing normally, and therefore insisted she take a pill to help them grow. “He showed concern. He said that I am going to give you a tablet so that they can grow. He gave me a script, and he told me how to position myself,” explained Daweti.
She added that he strictly instructed her to insert the pill and not swallow it. The 57-year-old said she was concerned about the method of insertion. “I [listened] to my doctor because I [wanted] my kids to grow,” explained Daweti.
The morning after she had taken the pill, she miscarried. “But then I thought it was just a normal miscarriage.” Not suspecting foul play from her doctor, she consulted him about what had happened and he performed a dilation and curettage to clean her uterus after the miscarriage.
A few weeks later, Daweti took her daughter Pamela for an appointment before her due date. On arrival, Van der Walt informed them about the change of the due date. “August 15 was her due date. She was going to give birth naturally. He changed the due date to the 11th.”
Death in childbirth
On the day of delivery at Life Cosmos Hospital in Witbank, now Emalahleni, Pamela was induced every two hours for the whole day.
Daweti said after her daughter gave birth to a baby girl named Lisakhanya, she was left bleeding. “[Van der Walt] stitched her and left her bleeding. They couldn’t pick up the blood pressure. She bled till she bled water.” Daweti added that Lisakhanya, who will be 14 in August, was bruised as a newborn.
On instruction from the nurses, Daweti left the hospital and went home to freshen up. Moments later, she received a call from the hospital informing her that her daughter had died. She recalled that Van der Walt summarily asked her to which mortuary he should send her daughter’s body.
“I said don’t touch my daughter, I am on the way,” she said, her voice breaking.
Investigation with a broken heart
After Pamela’s death, Daweti embarked on a low-key investigation. She decided to start by going back to the pharmacy where she bought the prescription pill.
“I went there. That’s how I found out that he aborted me. He gave me an abortion tablet. Why did he give me an abortion pill, I don’t know. This man is possessed, he is not normal,” she said.
For 12 years, Daweti has been fighting to get justice for her daughter. In 2017 Van der Walt was convicted and sentenced to five years for culpable homicide.
At the trial and the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA) hearing, expert evidence was given via a report by gynaecologist Dr Mokete Titus, who said:
“[Daweti] suffered a third-degree perinea[l] tear, which was repaired under anaesthetic in the delivery room. This was substandard as this tear must be repaired in the operating theatre under general anaesthesia.
“The nurses were left to battle on their own and they managed to barely keep the patient alive while the doctor, who should have been in charge, was giving telephonic verbal orders.”
Van der Walt appealed at the Mpumalanga high court sitting in Pretoria. In dismissing his appeal, the judge said: “The trial court, in imposing the sentencing as it did, takes into account the interests of the society, nature and magnitude of the offence and personal circumstances of the appellant and found that five years imprisonment … was appropriate.”
Speaking to New Frame, the National Prosecuting Authority’s spokesperson for Mpumalanga, Monica Nyuswa, said Van der Walt handed himself to the court manager in Witbank’s magistrate court on 19 June. “Then he was taken to correctional services to start serving his sentence,” she explained.
The HPCSA told New Frame that when they received a complaint about the doctor regarding the death of Pamela, the organisation’s committee of preliminary inquiry found that an admission of guilt fine should be imposed.
“Dr van der Walt had an option of paying or appearing for a disciplinary hearing. He opted to pay the admission of guilt fine of R10 000, therefore the matter could not proceed to a hearing. The case was closed,” said HPCSA’s Communications Manager Priscilla Sekhonyana, who added that the council had also received a complaint from Daweti regarding the loss of her twins.
“Ms Daweti was informed that she had to complete the HPCSA complaint form as a means of formalising the complaint,” wrote Sekhonyana, adding that the council is still waiting for the submission of the form.
Van der Walt’s legal representative declined to comment on both Van der Walt’s sentencing and the death of Daweti’s twins.
Widespread medical negligence in South Africa
Early this year, Business Day reported that there has been a “staggering” rise in medical negligence claims at provincial health departments. “By the end of the 2016-2017 fiscal year, government faced contingent liabilities — the cost if all the claims were successful — of R56.1 billion. That equates to almost a third of the R170.9 billion consolidated health budget for 2016-2017.”
In February, the then health minister Aaron Motsoaledi rubbished reports of the rise of medical negligence claims. Speaking to SAfm, he said the ministry asked the Special Investigative Unit to look into some of the claims.
“What we are finding is that quite a number of claims are fraudulent. It is just a scam by some unscrupulous lawyers who just want to extort money from the state.” He further mentioned an Eastern Cape lawyer who was arrested for submitting fake claims for cerebral palsy cases. Six of the claims were worth R90-million.
Away from the kitchen, Daweti sat in her dining room, amid scattered copies of court documents and archived newspaper reports about her legal battle with Van der Walt. She told New Frame of her concerns about the state of health care in the country. “South Africa has a very good constitution and policy, however, it is the individuals like Dr Van der Walt that are corrupting our country.”
Before dishing out dinner to her family, comprising boiled rice, mashed sweet potato and chicken stew, Daweti said her daughter had had big dreams; she wanted to be a star. “He robbed her of that, he robbed her life. And above all, I will never see my daughter multiply, I will never see her get married, because she was taken away from me,” Daweti said, looking at Pamela’s daughter, Lisakhanya, in the sitting room opposite the kitchen, with earphones on and doing her school work.
Daweti explained why she decided to take Van der Walt to the HPCSA concerning her miscarriages in 2005. She explained the horror she experienced as a result of this loss, which resulted in the end of her marriage, among other things. “I had three strokes. I went as far as going to a psychiatric hospital. I was losing it because every time I closed my eyes I would see this doctor doing everything he [did] to my daughter.
Since Van der Walt’s jail sentence, Daweti said she has started doing research about families that lost loved ones due to medical negligence. “These families had no voice, knowledge or resources. I want to create a sense of comfort,” she said, adding “I hope that HPCSA has learned from my case and will practice what it stands for.”
New Frame asked the HPCSA whether Van der Walt still had a practise licence even though he is now in jail. Sekhonyana replied that “Dr Danie Van der Walt’s status is active on the HPCSA register”.
Daweti said that although the legal battle has drained her financially, physically and emotionally, it has strengthened her spiritually.