Journalist. Writer. Researcher. Editor.

Sunday Times on Manto, 2007

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

sister.

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

wine.

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

meal.

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

8pm.

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

odd hours.

Chicken platters and tomatoes were bought for her.

Often the uneaten food was brought down to the kitchen the next

morning.

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

tomatoes.

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

child’s liver.

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

alcohol.

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

members.

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

confidentiality.

De Beer refused to comment.

Published on August 12, 2007.