The family of a British doctor shot dead during violent protests in South Africa in August have hit out at negligent police who they claim directed them towards the chaos before callously refusing to come to the victim’s aid.
Kar Hao Teoh, 40, a decorated surgeon, was driving with his mother Ainah, wife Sara and their two-year-old child while holidaying in Cape Town on August 3 when they came across a road closure and policemen directing traffic.
Ainah and Sara said the police directed Kar to follow another car, which drove directly into Nyanga – notorious for being the murder capital of South Africa.
Moments later the group were driving past burnt-out cars through debris-littered streets when a man approached the rental car and shot Kar in the head with no warning.
Kar did not die immediately and his family desperately pleaded with six policemen who arrived at the scene to call an ambulance, but claimed each one ignored them as Kar slipped into unconsciousness.
‘We said that he is a doctor. ”He saves lives. Please help him. He’s a good man”. But one (officer) even suggested we drive Kar Hao to the nearest hospital ourselves, Sara said.
The surgeon, a leading specialist, was shot dead after taking a wrong turn in South Africa
Ainah, Kar’s mother, said police refused to take the injured Kar to hospital themselves – but offered to drive the family away and leave him there to die
The death comes amid violence across Cape Town in response to police impounding illegal vehicles. Pictured: Residents of Masiphumelele gather near burning tyres amid protests
A statement provided to the BBC by a South African Police Service spokesperson read: ‘Should the family of the deceased have any concerns regarding the investigation or complaints directed at SAPS, they are encouraged to approach police management with the information so that the allegations can be probed.
Ainah added: ‘What really broke my heart was that no empathy and care was shown to us in that moment’, claiming the officers ‘walked away, and continued chatting amongst themselves’.
Ainah also said police refused to take the injured Kar to hospital themselves – but offered to drive the family away and leave him there to die.
‘They told us that we could leave this place without my son. I told him, ”He’s my son, how could I leave him there?” Ainah told the BBC.
An ambulance eventually arrived at the scene one hour after the incident, by which time Kar had died.
‘It will be improper to discuss such a sensitive matter with a third party, as information could be misconstrued.’
A previous police statement said: ‘From the airport he apparently took a wrong turn off and headed towards Nyanga.
‘In Ntlangano Crescent a number of suspects approached his vehicle, shot and killed him.’
Paying tribute to Kar, colleagues at the British Orthopaedic Foot and Ankle society described him as a ‘kind, gentle person’ and a ‘dedicated and talented surgeon’ who was a ‘rising star of the foot and ankle world’.
They said the leading trauma and orthopaedics specialist had ‘already made a big impact’, awarded several international fellowships for his work, and described him as a ‘loving family man’ whose ‘sudden and tragic death … shocked us all’.
Kar also won the Presidential Prize at the European Foot and Ankle Society conference in Lyon for his research into the treatment of ankle fractures in 2021.
Kar, who was born in Singapore but had British nationality, was one of five who have died in violence during the strike.
Violent demonstrations broke out across the city of Nyanga after police officers introduced new measures to crack down on illegal vehicles in late July.
Mr Kar Teoh, 40, was a consultant orthopaedic surgeon in Sawbridgeworth, Hertfordshire
A resident of Masiphumelele uses a board as a shield during clashes with law enforcement amidst an ongoing strike by taxi operators against traffic authorities in Cape Town, August 8
Members of the South African police stand near a burnt-out vehicle in Nyanga during the ongoing strike by taxi operators in Cape Town, South Africa, August 7, 2023
Kar studied medicine at the University of Edinburgh, the Royal College of Surgeons in Edinburgh and the University of Dundee, before going on to complete higher surgical training in the Wales Deanery.
He won numerous research awards and was later elected a member of the Faculty of Surgical Trainers by the Royal College of Surgeons Edinburgh in recognition of his teaching work.
A spokesperson for the Princess Alexandra Hospital, where he worked, said: ‘Sadly, we can confirm that Mr Kar Hao Teoh, consultant trauma and orthopaedic surgeon, has died.
‘He was a well-respected member of the team, valued colleague and friend to many across the hospital as well as in regional, national and international trauma and orthopaedic networks.’
Kar also worked privately for MSK Doctors, and close friend Professor Paul Lee paid tribute to him with a moving tribute online.
Professor Lee said: ‘It is with profound sorrow that we announce the passing of our esteemed colleague and dear friend, Mr Kar Teoh, a respected Trauma and Orthopaedic consultant who left us too soon on August 3, 2023.
‘Mr Teoh was more than a triple board certified specialist in Trauma and Foot & Ankle surgery.
‘He was a guiding light in our professional community, a devoted friend, and a cornerstone of many significant projects,’ he said.
‘Kar’s commitment to medical excellence was recognised in several prestigious international travelling Fellowships (BOA, BOFAS, AO, SICOT, EFORT, IBRA), and he was an ardent proponent of research, and undergraduate and postgraduate education.
‘Yet, his professional accolades only paint part of the picture. For those of us privileged to call him a friend and colleague, Kar was a trustworthy and steadfast presence.’
He added: ‘The loss of Mr. Kar Teoh leaves a void in our hearts and our community.’
Lee said he was instrumental in the establishment and success of WelshBone in 2007, MSK Doctors in 2017, and the MSK Regen conference in 2023.
‘In each of these initiatives, Kar offered his unwavering support and played a critical role in their success.
His cousin Sancy Low, wrote on Facebook: ‘He had a great sense of humour and would have wanted things to be light and fuss-free.’
A JustGiving page has also been set up in memory of Kar, inviting people to share fond memories to be compiled for his young son.
A law enforcement officer fires rubber bullets during their clashes with protesters in Masiphumelele amidst an ongoing strike by taxi operators
A protester blocks the streets with stones and rubble during an ongoing strike by taxi operators against traffic authorities, in Msiphumelele, Cape Town, South Africa, August 8
Law enforcement officers detain a protestor amidst an ongoing strike by taxi operators against traffic authorities in Msiphumelele, Cape Town, South Africa, August 8
The page reads: ‘The sudden and tragic loss of Mr. Kar H Teoh has left a void in our hearts.
‘Kar was not just a respected Trauma and Orthopaedic Consultant but also a dear friend, a dedicated colleague, and a loving family man.
‘His contributions to the medical field, showcased his unwavering dedication to advancing healthcare.
‘Beyond these professional achievements, Kar was known for his kindness, warmth, and steadfast support for those around him.’
Furious campaigners connected to the influential private taxi industry launched stones at cars and buses and and set some alight amid the August protests.
It came after a new municipal law gave local authorities power to impound vehicles for driving without a licence or registration plates, and not wearing a seatbelt.
The taxis’ national union said its members weren’t instigating the violence and others were using the strike as an excuse to launch their own protests.
But millions of workers and schoolchildren were forced to stay at home and deliveries of food were interrupted amid the protests.
Geordin Hill-Lewis, Cape Town’s mayor, said he would stand firm against the sector.
‘In Cape Town, violence will never be tolerated as a negotiating tactic. We reiterate our call on SANTACO [the taxi union] to return peacefully to the negotiation table,’ he said.