Sunday, April 26, 2020


Dear Mothers everywhere,

          What would you think if your son became ill and died in hospital and the Death Notice you received from the authorities stated his death was an “unnatural” one?
          This is exactly what happened to Fatima Kiel. The distress of losing her son Fuad Petersen very suddenly at the age of 48 was compounded by the mystery that this word cast over the cause of his death.
He was living with her in the family's flat in the Ocean View Township in Cape Town’s Southern suburbs when his body began to swell excessively. He was taken to the False Bay Hospital nearby from where he was transferred to the larger Groote Schuur Hospital as his condition deteriorated.
There, she was told, the doctors decided to amputate his one leg, but sadly he never survived the operation.
This could hardly be classified as an “unnatural death,” so you can imagine how worried she got when she saw what was on the form. She was thinking of all kinds of horrendous possibilities that are all too common in gangster riddle Ocean View where shootings are an almost daily occurrence. ‘How could he have died violently without us knowing?’ kept haunting her.
She works for us so I set out to solve this ‘who done it’ that the Police showed no sign of doing. The way the form had been completed by Dr Laura Taylor the state pathologist at the Division of Forensic Medicine at the University of Cape Town complicated the case even further.
She certified that she had done a medico-legal investigation into Fuad’s death and that his body was no longer required for the purposes of the Inquest Act. How odd is that if his death was an unnatural one?
Under the section headed Cause of Death there are three blocks: 30.1 Natural; 30.2 Unnatural and 30.3 Under investigation and she marked the Unnatural block with an X. The rest were left blank. In what country would an “unnatural death” not be investigation other than in South Africa if this kind of mumbo jumbo is to be believed?
In an effort to get hold of Dr Taylor I phoned the number given for her on the form and when the lady who answered told me she was not there she gave me the doctor’s email address.
10 February 2020: I emailed Dr Taylor; explained the problem Fatima was having, and included copies of the controversial document the doctor had signed as well as the Death Certificate. I emphasised that the ‘not knowing’ had just added to Fatima’s grief. “Can you tell me what evidence you had that made you conclude that Fuad died of ‘unnatural causes’?” I asked. I got a message to say my email had been delivered but no reply.
20 Feb: As I got no reply to my first email, I sent another one asking if she got it. “If so,” I told her, “I would be very much obliged if you could give me an answer because his mother is in quite a state because she doesn’t know why the cause of her son’s death has been described as ‘unnatural causes.’?” I got no reply.
2 March: I emailed her again saying: “As a pathologist who works with the police I assume you are a government employee. If this is the case it is deplorable that you don’t answer my emails when I am trying to get clarity for a mother about how her son died. The Notice of Death document with your stamp and signature on it is confusing to say the least. How can an ‘unnatural death’ not be under investigation unless of course this had been completed by the time you filled in the form. It’s hard to imagine how this could be possible because Petersen died on 21 January 2020 and your stamp on the document indicates that you completed it two days later. The Police don’t normally work that quickly.
          “This is a terrible way for the authorities to treat people when one of their loved ones die especially, as was the case, here when her son was only 48.” Still no reply.
          After making further unsuccessful attempts to contact the doctor on the phone the lady who answers it told me I should contact Detective Booi at the Woodstock Police station, which is a long way from Fatima’s home and ours.
          I called him several times only to be put through to extensions that nobody answered AT A POLICE STATION. Then one day my luck changed. An officer told me I should phone back shortly as Detective Booi had gone out for a few minutes. When I did that the same policeman answered and when I asked for Detective Booi this dark comedy took a new twist. Booi he said was on leave.
            After he apologised for his mistake I made a last ditch effort to get to the bottom of this strange government behaviour. I told him what I wanted to know. To
 begin with he said that Fatima would have to come to Woodstock as it was not something they could discuss over the phone. Then he mellowed and gave me this hard to believe information - a new policy had been introduced and the Police were now treating all deaths like Petersen’s as “unnatural”.
          That means our Police Service is turning natural deaths into crime mysteries when there is no logical reason for doing this. And what’s more these are unique to the world – they never do get investigated properly or at all.
          Fatima subsequently got a message via a relative that there was nothing “unnatural” about her son’s death. This made her son’s Death Certificate completely untrue.  It states he died of “unnatural causes” (plural) and the signature on it, which is said to be that of the Director-General: Home Affairs, is so ridiculously flamboyant that nobody would be able to even guess what his/her name is.
Jon, an investigator, Consumer Watchdog and Poorman’s Press Ombudsman.
P.S. Our South African Police Service has always had a Keystone Cops aura about it, together with a reputation for not being too finicky about sticking to the law when dealing with suspects. So this kind of ridiculous change in the way deaths are dealt with can do nothing to endear it to the public. And as a doctor you would think that Laura Taylor would have at least answered my emails even if she has no say in how the policy is implemented.   

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