/ 1 January 2002

Prisoners allege murder, assault by fake prison doc

A Grootvlei prisoner, in jail for posing as a doctor, was on Friday in testimony before the Jali Commission, accused of murdering three prison hospital patients.

The commission heard that ”Dr Dup”, as Nico du Plessis is known in prison, was allowed by Elize Burger, head of nursing services in the prison hospital, to perform medical tasks in the prison hospital. He was held in the hospital section and at night slept in a hospital bed in the ward for Aids patients.

Two prisoners, Johannes Moruti and Sello Patrick Mosopeng, testified that they saw him strangling a patient whose corpse was afterwards taken to the mortuary.

Moruti and Vusumuzi Sepenya, also a patient prisoner, testified that they saw him assault a very weak Aids patient repeatedly with his fists one night, after which the victim died.

Du Plessis allegedly hit the man repeatedly in the stomach around midnight. He allegedly attacked the man three times that night. The next morning, after the patients in the ward refused to eat because of the night time assault, Du Plessis took the assault victim’s corpse on a stretcher to the mortuary, Sepenya told the commission.

Mosopeng also testified that he saw Du Plessis slapping another patient, who died afterwards.

Patient prisoners complained for a long time without success that Du Plessis be moved to another section, because ”he is finishing people up”, Moruti testified.

Floris Petrus Coetzee, another patient prisoner, testified earlier on Friday morning that Du Plessis had told him that he did not like the ”kaffir” patients, and that he sometimes slapped them in the face or strangled them.

”He said that he hopes for the Aids patients to die, so that he can push them into the mortuary. They are all afraid of him,” Coetzee said.

Du Plessis, who was officially employed as a tea maker and cleaner in the prison hospital, was also allowed to perform tasks such as taking patients’ blood pressure and temperature and registering it, and administering medication to patients by injection and handing out pills, several witnesses testified.

Patients were very scared of him, because he told them that he could ”see to” their transferral to another prison, or out of hospital, the commission was told.

Coetzee was also accused of stealing a powder supplement destined for Aids patients and then selling it to other prisoners or using it to pay his debts. He was also accused of stealing the meat off patients’ plates from the prison kitchen, and then sending the plates with the rest of the food back to the kitchen and saying the patients did not want it.

Sepenya, who has been HIV positive for nine years, testified that Du Plessis had disclosed his (Sepenya’s) CD4 count (indicating how advanced stage his illness was) to him, although Sepenya specifically asked doctors not to tell him this reading.

He knew Du Plessis had access to his personal medical file, because Du Plessis also knew personal facts about him that he could only have established by reading this file, Sepenya testified.

An emotional Sepenya said: ”I did not want to know my CD4 count, because I did not want to know how far the virus has eaten me up. Dup has helped the virus kill me”.

Moruti told the commission that he once heard cries from the prison bathroom. When he went to investigate, he found Du Plessis, who had put a patient in a cold bath and was hitting him on the back, telling the patient to wash himself.

In another incident Moruti caught Du Plessis ”framing” a new patient by putting a dagga ”zol” (cigarette) under the patient’s pillow. After the patient was transferred for this, Du Plessis told Moruti that he had done this because the new patient ”knew too much”.

Moruti told the commission that Du Plessis did ”wrong things” to patients after drawing the curtains around their beds. In cross-examination Du Plessis’ representative Alex Hewetson, said that Du Plessis would deny all these allegations.

Du Plessis asked judge Thabani Jali, chairman of the commission, to order that he be transferred to the prison’s single cells, because he was ”assaulted” on Friday morning by a fellow prisoner before leaving the prison. His cheek was bandaged as he testified.

Sepenya asked to be transferred to the Goedemoed prison near Bethulie, because he feared for his life after testifying against Du Plessis.

Du Plessis was moved a week ago from the prison hospital to a communal cell, after complaints were made to the prison authorities that he was ”treating” patients. – Sapa