Lives we lost: Burning tyres, tear gas suffocated grandmother while admitted to hospital

What you need to know:

  • Some of the canisters fell on the balcony, outside the room where Nassanga was sleeping.

In the last instalment of this series, we chronicle how bullets prematurely shattered the blooming dreams of dozens during two days of madness last November. In interviews with our reporter, Gillian Nantume, grieving families and friends share the triumphs, travails and final moments of relatives in a way that offers insights into the lives of victims hitherto treated as statistics.

When the 82-year-old grandmother fell ill, she chose to be taken to a clinic in Nyendo Town, Masaka District. She was living on Busabala Road in Makindye Division in Kampala City but she wanted to go to Masaka because that is where her children live. She had four children and many grandchildren.

Her daughter, Ms Salima Nalukenge, says Nassanga was a well-behaved old woman who rarely fell sick.
“We took her to Rahma Medical Centre in Nyendo Town, where she had spent two days, when the rioting began. She had been admitted with high blood pressure, malaria and her diabetic condition was bothering her. But after two days on treatment she had begun improving,” Ms Nalukenge said.

When the rioting began, Nalukenge had already fed her mother and given her juice. Afterwards, Nalukenge went to the mosque to pray. The rioters had lit tyres on the road just outside the hospital.
Mustapha Kasule, the director of Rahma Medical Centre, says: “Our hospital is on the main road (Masaka Highway) so when the rioting began and people started burning tyres, our administrator felt that for the safety of our in-patients and out-patients, we needed to call the police to guard the clinic.”

 The administrator asked the police to send five officers. Smoke from the burning tyres was already coming into the health facility. When the police arrived, they began shooting teargas canisters to disperse the rioters.
“Some of the stronger patients got out and ran out of the building. The nurses also ran. The weaker patients, however, remained in their beds,” Kasule says.

Some of the canisters fell on the balcony, outside the room where Nassanga was sleeping.
“At 3pm, when I returned to the hospital, I found my mother struggling to breath. She kept asking why there was smoking pepper in her room. The doctor put her on a drip and by evening she was feeling better,” Nalukenge says.

Unfortunately, in the night, there were running battles between the police and the rioters. As the police fired teargas, some canisters fell on the balcony and into nearby homes. Once again, the nurses fled.

“When they returned, my mother was struggling to breathe again. This time, they put her on oxygen, but it was already too late. She died in the morning, at 6.30am.”
Nalukenge says no police officer or government official has approached the family to help them get justice for the death of their mother.