The Committee discussed the petition of Mr Mkhize about the reopening of an inquest into the death of his wife, Ms Matiwane.
The Parliamentary Legal Adviser informed Members that a formal judicial inquest in terms of the Inquests Act No. 58 of 1959, into the death the spouse of the petitioner was conducted in December 2008. At the conclusion of the inquest, the relevant court found that the deceased had died of natural causes and that her death was not brought about by any act of omission involving or amounting to an offence on the part of any person. The Legal Adviser advised that Section 17A of the Inquests Act allowed for the reopening of an inquest. The petitioner may make an application to the Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development to have the inquest reopened. Thereafter the Minister would have to determine whether it was in the interest of justice to do so, based on the facts before him/her. He therefore advised the Committee to assist the petitioner in directing the request to the Minister of Justice. The Committee Researcher supported this recommendation and highlighted media reports which suggested that an inquest was warranted.
The Committee ultimately decided to invite Mr Mkhize, the health officials and the MEC for Health in the Western Cape. The decision to ask the Minister to reopen the inquest would depend on the outcome of the pending meeting.
The Committee briefly discussed its planned trip to the North West. The Committee would depart the following day. It was agreed that the Committee should use the trip to sort out issues of the Select Committee on Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs because the two Committees shared similar Membership list.
Legal Opinion on the petition for the reopening of an inquest on the death of Ms Matiwane
Adv Gary Rhoda Parliamentary Legal Advisor mentioned that the Parliamentary Legal Office was requested to provide a legal opinion on the petition received from Mr AB Mkhize. The petition and the documents presented to the select Committee on Petitions and Members Legislative set out the facts in the following manner. Mr Mkhize wanted the inquest into the death of his wife to be reopened. Adv Rhoda said that he would only highlight those sections necessary for the legal opinion because Mr Mkhize had submitted a lot of documentation.
It had appeared that a formal judicial inquest in terms of the Inquests Acts No. 58 of 1959, into the death of a spouse of the petitioner was conducted in December 2008. At the conclusion of the inquest referred, the relevant court found that the deceased died of natural causes and that her death was not brought about by any act of omission involving or amounting to an offence on the part of any person.
Adv Rhoda said that Section 17A of the Inquests Act allowed for the reopening of an inquest. Section 17A (1) provided that.
“The Minister may, on recommendation of the Attorney-General concerned, at any time after the determination of an inquest and if he deemed it necessary in the interest of justice, request a judge president of the provincial division of the supreme court to designate any judge of the Supreme Court of South Africa to reopen that inquest, whereupon the judge thus designated shall re-open such inquest.”
He explained the meaning of the above as that the Petitioner Mr Mkhize may make an application to the Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development to have the inquest reopened. Thereafter the Minister would have to determine whether it was in the interest of justice to do so, based on the facts before him/her.
Adv Rhoda advised the Committee that there was legislation that provided for a remedy to the petitioner in directing the request to the Minister.
Advocate Rhoda said it appeared that communication was the problem because of the language barrier. He cited the example of the language used, like the word “collapse”. To the layman it meant that Ms Matiwane fell down. In medical terms it meant that Ms Matiwane stopped breathing. It could have been hard to explain to a grieving husband that his pregnant wife could end up dead. Mr Mkhize suspected foul play. Mr Mkhize then asked for legal opinion which advised him to petition the Committee. If the Committee agreed to help Mr Mkhize then he would have to prove to the Minister that the exhumation was in the interest of justice. Ms Matiwane was buried in 2004. The exhumation of a decomposed body was every expensive exercise. There were lot of allegations from some quarters and that raised Mr Mkhize’s suspicion about the death of his wife.
Mr V Bloem (COPE; Free State) suggested that the Committee should involve the Minister of Health and the Minister of Justice regarding the reopening of the inquest.
Adv Rhoda said that the MEC for Health was closer to the issue than the Minister, and it would make things move faster.
The Chairperson said that the Committee should invite the petitioner and the MEC for Heath in the Western Cape and the doctors that had certified Ms Matiwane as dead.
Ms Sisanda Sipamla, Committee Researcher, suggested that the Committee should not ignore the Noseweek Magazine articles on the alleged foul play in Ms Matiwane’s death. Ms Matiwane complained of backache even before she was admitted at Mowbray Maternity Hospital. This hospital was a second tier hospital where patients were supposed to go there on referral from a primary care health clinic. Ms Matiwane had a referral letter from a KZN health centre but she was turned down twice firstly because she did not have medical aid and secondly because she had no proof of address. The media report pointed out some shady dealings and that the people in the medical profession protected each other. There might be some merit in the reopening of the inquest. Ms Matiwane had a condition that was dangerous where high blood pressure made her vulnerable if she was induced. People with high blood pressure were not supposed to be induced. Another factor exposed by the media was that that people in the medical profession were protective of each other. She suggested that the Committee should not ignore Mr Mkhize’s concerns regarding the violated human rights of his wife.
Mr A Matila (ANC; Gauteng) suggested that Mr Mkhize should be invited to put his case before the Committee.
The Chairperson mentioned that the Committee would be writing letters to all the relevant stakeholders and invite them for a briefing. He also thanked Ms Sipamla and the Adv Rhoda for their input on the matter. He also added that the Committee would never go wrong when dealing with issues if they were equipped with proper information.
Mr Matila suggested that the support staff should help prepare relevant questions for the meeting with the stakeholders on the issue.
Planned Trip to the North West
The Chairperson informed the Committee that the trip had been provisionally approved. He said that the Select Committee on Appropriations was also interested in being part of the trip. All Members had indicated that they would be available for the trip except Mr Adams. Adv Rhoda indicated that it would be impossible to get approval for the support staff given the short space of time between Wednesday and the day of departure which was 16 May 2012.
The Chairperson explained that he could intervene and seek permission for the staff.
Mr M Mokgobi (ANC; Gauteng) suggested that the Committee should also use the trip to sort out issues of the Select Committee on Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs because the two Committees shared similar Membership list.
Members emphasised the importance of constant communication especially when there were sudden changes related to meeting times, venues and dates in the programme.
The meeting was adjourned.
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