Life Esidimeni inquiry promises to dig deep

dikgang moseneke

It’s week one of the Life Esidimeni Arbitration-Alternative Dispute Resolution hearing, headed by the former ConCourt Deputy Chief Justice, Dikgang Moseneke.

Emoyeni, Jubilee Road, Johannesburg, South Africa

As gory details emerged how their loved ones died in the hands of those who were supposed to take care of them, families of the deceased Life Esedimeni patients twisted their heads in disbelief. Survivors of the tragic decision by the Gauteng Department of Health to relocate long-term patients to non-governmental care facilities could not held back their tears in retelling the trauma they suffered a year ago.

life esedimeni dispute resolution
Family of the deceased Life Esedimeni patients attending the arbitration hearing.

It’s week one of the Life Esidimeni Arbitration-Alternative Dispute Resolution hearing, headed by the former ConCourt Deputy Chief Justice, Dikgang Moseneke and taking place at Emoyeni Conference Centre in Parktown, Johannesburg. It will run for two weeks.

Dr Precious Matsoso, the Director General of the National Department of Health, is one of the government officials who was cross examined. She gave a detailed account of what happened when the National Department was called to intervene after the sudden deaths of mental patients in Gauteng. The count now stands at 118. It could be more.

She told the panel of lawyers and advocates how family members struggled to identify their loved ones at various mortuaries, how ill-equipped, unlicensed and untrained NGOs were tasked to take care of the patients. This was after the Gauteng Health Department decided to terminate its contract with Life Esidimeni and transfer patients to these NGOs.

“Although other provinces terminated their contracts with Life Esidimeni, it was done carefully. It never turned out to be so disastrous,” she said, adding that under the Mental Health Act there is a provision which allows mental healthcare to be integrated into community healthcare. This is supported by the World Health Organisation.

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“It’s a highly consultative process taking into account the needs of the patients and the family. If they had to be transferred, the place must be thoroughly assessed and the staff must be trained.” The reason for this, she said, is that mental healthcare is a continuous process, and reintegration of patients back into the society should be the goal of treatment.

Asked if she feels by merely resigning, the former MEC of Health in Gauteng, Qedani Mahlangu, was showing accountability, she struggled with the answer. Pushed further, she conceded that Mahlangu must be subjected to the inquiry and that all those liable for this catastrophic event had to face the full might of the law.

The name of Mahlangu triggered a memory for one of the bereaved family members. He remembered how insensitive the MEC was to their concerns and what a bully she was. “We were called into a meeting and told our brothers and sisters are going to be transferred. We were worried and asked questions. She was not prepared to listen to us. She told us government want to save costs and that’s it,” he said.

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