Statement by NUCWOSA on the Horrific Death of 94 Psychiatric Patients

As the newly formed union of community health care workers, we express our horror and disgust at the deaths of 94 psychiatric patients under the watch and care of the Gauteng Department of Health. It is obvious that for many years the government’s approach to healthcare of poor working class South Africans has favoured penny-pinching at the expense of decent healthcare. This approach of the ANC-led government has prevailed in virtually all spheres of social support where budget cuts for the poor along with self-enriching corrupt tenders and outsourcing deals by government leaders and officials is the priority instead of “A Better Life for All”.

It is evident that government leaders simply don’t care. Our members and thousands of community health care workers have been victims of this approach for over a decade. We are underpaid and abused with most of us earning less than R2000 per month and working in unsafe conditions without the necessary protection. With the government’s “Re-engineering of Healthcare strategy” it has already started reducing the number of much needed community carers. It plans to reduce our numbers from 70000 to 45000 nationally, despite the dire need of communities. The government still does not recognise us as “employees” and thereby denies us our labour rights.

Now the government has presided over a national disaster with so many unnecessary deaths and families suffering with grief over the loss of their loved ones. Despite the known risks of deinstitutionalisation of mental healthcare, MEC Mahlangu wantonly proceeded with it primarily to cut costs. This, despite desperate attempts by families and advocacy groups, like the SA Society of Psychiatrists and the SA Depression and Anxiety Group to convince them of the danger. Even litigation failed to convince them. As put by the PHM, “The Gauteng Department of Health ruthlessly implemented a hasty, cruel, chaotic and seriously unethical plan that effectively dumped already very vulnerable patients out of sight and out of mind in hopelessly inadequate settings — a frank dereliction of ethical obligations and human rights commitments.”

We support the People’s Health Movement South Africa’s call for:

  1. The investigation into this shameful episode to continue until its full extent is clear to the nation.
  2. Full accountability from all those responsible for these deaths—from those who ordered the placements in unregulated settings to those who operated these “homes”. This is critical not only for the relatives and loved ones of people who came to harm but to the nation as a whole
  3. An explanation from those involved to the country as a whole, and particularly to the relatives and loved ones of those who came to harm.
  4. Appropriate punitive steps. Ms Mahlangu’s resignation, though welcome, does not absolve her nor the Gauteng and national government from full accountability. We consider this especially important in the light of the fact that other provinces may be considering similar activities.
  5. We also call for a commitment from the state towards a single, adequately resourced and equitable National Health System that recognises our common humanity and provides high quality health care for everyone according to need, irrespective of social status or means.
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We call on all South Africans, especially poor working class communities, to stand up and demand justice for the affected families and unite for a permanent end to poverty and inequality.

For further comment contact: Makhosazana Ganamfana (President) 0788757510 or Bonga Thubeni (General Secretary) 0723427866

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