Sipho Mabena

By Sipho Mabena

Premium Journalist


WATCH: Mpumalanga woman left home to join police, returned in a body bag

Zandile Mbingo's family say their daughter was denied medical care more than once, and was simply dumped at a hospital when it was too late.


She already had a job in Pretoria as a clerk for the SA Police Service’s (SAPS) elite Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation, known as the Hawks, but what Zandile Mbingo wanted more than anything else was to become a police officer. So, when the opportunity arose to become part of the police's much-publicised intake of 10 000 recruits last year, she eagerly enlisted and went for training at the police academy in Bisho, Eastern Cape. But what Zandile, a Tshwane University of Technology (TUT) graduate, and her family never anticipated was for her returning home in a body bag. This video…

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She already had a job in Pretoria as a clerk for the SA Police Service’s (SAPS) elite Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation, known as the Hawks, but what Zandile Mbingo wanted more than anything else was to become a police officer.

So, when the opportunity arose to become part of the police’s much-publicised intake of 10 000 recruits last year, she eagerly enlisted and went for training at the police academy in Bisho, Eastern Cape.

But what Zandile, a Tshwane University of Technology (TUT) graduate, and her family never anticipated was for her returning home in a body bag.

This video is no longer available.

Tragic end to noble dream

All that remains as a sad reminder of her ambitions is a photo of her in a police uniform, which was meant to be presented to her on graduation day, but currently hangs on the wall of her Barberton home in Mpumalanga.

Zandile Mbingo's mother, with a picture of her daughter in uniform.
Philisiwe Mbingo holding her daughters’ picture Zandile Mbingo at home in Barberton, Mpumalanga. 15 February 2023. Picture by Sibogumenzi Sibiya/The Citizen

“I am sure my daughter would be alive and well today if she had not gone for training to become a police officer,” her mother, Philisiwe Mbingo, said.

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Most devastating to her family are the circumstances surrounding her death, which they have blamed on negligence at the police camp.

Zandile was fit enough for the training, according to her mother, and was excited on her arrival at the camp last April.

No medical attention

But early in November, she told her mom over the phone that she had been ill and was on several occasions denied medical attention.

“She could not breathe but the colonel in charge would not allow her to go to the sick bay. Instead, she was sent to parade, during which she collapsed,” Philisiwe said.

Philisiwe, 59, said despite this, her daughter was still not given medical attention or allowed to seek help elsewhere.

Though she was frail, Zandile was instead assigned kitchen duties, where she collapsed again. Only then was she taken to hospital, on 12 November.

“They just dumped her at casualty. Luckily, she was accompanied by a fellow trainee who stayed with her. My son Andile was called by the trainee telling him Zandile was in hospital,” she said.

Philisiwe said when she called the hospital, she was told her daughter was gravely ill and might not make it to the next day.

By the time she arrived in East London the following day, Zandile had been transferred to a local private health facility, due to her lungs having collapsed and an urgent need of oxygen.

“I was shocked to find her unresponsive and on life support in the Intensive Care Unit [ICU],” she said.

SAPS’ lack of compassion

Philisiwe said she had been to East London visiting her daughter on three occasions before she died and not a single SAPS official had stopped by to check on her daughter.

With her financial resources exhausted, she and her son ended up sleeping in the car and Zandile’s attending doctor had advised against transferring her to a hospital closer to home.

The last time Mbingo saw her daughter alive was on 27 December.

“On 30 December, the hospital called to tell me that my daughter was no more,” she said.

Philisiwe said not a single SAPS official, other than Zandile’s colleagues at the Hawks, sent condolences or attended her funeral.

Cele, where is my daughter?

In December last year, while Zandile was fighting for her life in hospital, the SAPS announced the passing out parade for their 10 000 newly trained police officers, of which she was meant to be one.

“[Police minister Bheki] Cele proudly told the nation that all 10 000 recruits enlisted for the training came back. Then he must tell me where my daughter is,” she said.

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In November, one of the trainees was also allegedly accidentally fatally shot by an instructor demonstrating the use of a firearm in a Limpopo police training camp.

What police say?

National police spokesperson Brigadier Athlenda Mathe denied that Mbingo was denied medical attention, and said she was immediately transported to a health facility as soon as she started experiencing health challenges.

“As indicated, we cannot comment further on this sensitive matter as it remains a matter between employer and the family of the deceased member,” she said.

Mbingo’s family, however, say they have yet to hear a peep from police since her passing on 30 December.

Mathe said the well-being of their members, including trainees, remain an apex priority for the organisation and that this is why there was an Employee Health and Wellness Unit.

She said the unit was available all the time to address any issues relating to the wellbeing of members.

“It is rather unfortunate that [Zandile], who is also a former Public Service Act (PSA) member sadly passed on in hospital due to a medical condition. The doctor that examined and diagnosed the member provided a medical report to the training academy, which the SAPS cannot divulge because it is an offence to divulge the medical particulars of an individual, as these matters are considered highly sensitive,” Mathe said.

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She explained that each academy had a learner support structure that ensures the psychological and physical well-being of learners, including ensuring trainees complete the training programme.

“Learner support practitioners [who] monitor trainees refer learners to specialists on a daily basis. Some of our training academies have nurses as well as doctors that would come to provide medical care to learners,” Mathe said.

She said the organisation had processes and systems in place to ensure that families were consistently updated on information pertaining to the health and psychological condition of trainees

“Any information pertaining to the deceased member will be communicated with the family as this matter is a matter between employer and employee and remains highly sensitive,” she added.

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