SA Health minister in hospital booze binge
By: Jocelyn Maker and Megan Power
Red wine and whisky were smuggled into Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang’s private hospital room in a blue bag before and after she underwent surgery.
In 2005 while at the Cape Town Medi-Clinic in Hof Street for a
shoulder operation, the minister’s behaviour towards staff was
described as ‘appalling’ and ‘putrid’ and unbecoming of the
national Minister of Health.
It was clear that ‘she knew she had power and misused it’.
She was difficult to deal with, often refused to eat from the
hospital kitchen and demanded food from Woolworths.
In a five-month investigation The Sunday Times has established
that hospital staff were dispatched to buy alcohol on a number of
occasions by her bodyguards, her female friend and a senior
They were terrified of offending her and at times bent the rules
to make her happy.
Details of her hospital stays come after a week of high drama in
which President Thabo Mbeki controversially fired her popular
deputy, Nozizwe Madlala- Routledge.
She was admitted to the hospital twice – on February 11 when she
underwent the operation on her shoulder and again on March 5 after
an infection had set in.
At some stage, the hospital ran out of its usual small stock of
A hospital staff member was instructed by her ‘friend’ – who
often slept in her room – to buy more.
A short while later, the alcohol, purposely hidden in a blue
Medi-Clinic bag, was taken to the minister’s room.
Witnesses told The Sunday Times that the minister was drunk in
the hospital on several occasions.
But late last week Sibani Mngadi, Msimang’s spokesman, said that
she had told him that at no time during her two visits to the
Medi-Clinic for her shoulder operation and infection ‘did she
consume any alcohol at all’.
But within 45 minutes of making this statement he backtracked,
saying the minister had remembered that she had drunk wine with a
In his first response, he said that the only alcohol that she
knew about that was brought to her room during her hospital stay
was a box of KWV wine bought by the friend who stayed in the room
with her as a gift for her surgeon, Dr Joe de Beer.
“The minister told me it was her friend and Dr de Beer who drank
wine from one of the bottles in the box,” Mngadi said.
The Sunday Times, however, can reveal that on another occasion a
few hundred rands was handed to a hospital staff member to buy a
bottle of whisky.
The bottle was again stashed in the blue bag and handed to one
of the minister’s bodyguards, who took it into her room.
On another occasion another bottle of whiskey was demanded at
This one was bought from a shebeen in Salt River.
Later, six small bottles of wine were bought.
In addition, Tshabalala-Msimang demanded food from Woolworths at
Chicken platters and tomatoes were bought for her.
Often the uneaten food was brought down to the kitchen the next
Staff shared it.
After a party in her room one night, at about 1h30am, the
minster demanded lemons.
A staff member was given R100 and sent off to find them.
Eventually eight lemons were found at a shop in Observatory.
The same hospital staff member was given R50 to buy
These were bought at the Grand Parade and, on return, the
employee was told to keep the change.
Just three months ago Tshabalala-Msimang received the gift of
life from a teenage suicide victim whose family donated their
Within hours of the operation at Donald Gordon Medi-Clinic in
Johannesburg, doctors said the minister had been diagnosed with
auto-immune hepatitis, and that the cause of her cirrhosis was not
However, The Sunday Times can reveal that many top medical
experts at state and private institutions, who refused to be named,
said speculation was rife in the profession that she suffered from
alcoholic liver disease.
The Sunday Times is also in possession of documents related to
Tshabalala-Msimang’s two hospital stays in 2005.
Medical practitioners who were given the files to assess on
behalf of The Sunday Times said they were shocked at excessive use
of painkillers and sleeping tablets and said the patient should not
have been allowed to consume alcohol while on them.
Records show that on February 11, the night before her first
operation, at 8h20pm, the minister was handed two sleeping tablets
– one from her own stock and one given to her by the clinic.
The report clearly states that she also drank white wine, had
rooibos tea with lemons and enjoyed supper.
At 11h30pm it is recorded that she had wine again.
The following day she underwent surgery.
On the night after the surgery at 7pm that night she was given
her supper with wine, and was also given sleeping tablets.
During the early hours of the morning she complained of pain and
was given morphine.
During her second admission, her records show that on March 5, a
few hours before her second operation on the infected shoulder, she
ordered dry white wine at 8h45pm.
On March 7 at 7pm the records show that the minister was having
a drink with Dr de Beer.
On March 9, the day the minster was discharged from the clinic
shortly before midday, she ordered lunch and wine.
Afterwards she was escorted to her car by hospital staff
On Friday, Biren Valodia, Medi-Clinic’s director of marketing,
said the company had been honoured to have the Minister of Health
as a patient.
He said Medi-Clinic respected the right of all patients to
De Beer refused to comment.
Published on August 12, 2007.