Life Esidi­meni vic­tims' fam­i­lies awarded R1.2m

Vuk'uzenzele - - General -

Gov­ern­ment has been or­dered to pay vic­tims of the Gaut­eng men­tal health care tragedy a to­tal of R1.2 mil­lion each by no later than 19 June 2018.

Life Esidi­meni ar­bi­tra­tor and re­tired Deputy Chief Jus­tice Dik­gang Moseneke made the or­der as he read out a con­densed ver­sion of his 100 page judg­ment on March 19.

Jus­tice Moseneke said the marathon project was in­hu­mane and stripped vic­tims of their dig­nity.

“Every el­e­ment of the marathon project tram­pled on the dig­nity of the men­tal health care users in every way. The users were stripped of their dig­nity in life and death,” said the ar­bi­tra­tor.

A to­tal of R1 mil­lion is to be paid to the vic­tims for con­sti­tu­tional dam­ages for the vi­o­la­tion of their hu­man rights.

In ad­di­tion, R200 000 is to be paid by gov­ern­ment, R20 000 for funeral ex­penses and R180 000 for the shock and trauma en­dured by the fam­i­lies.

Jus­tice Moseneke also or­dered that a re­mem­brance mon­u­ment be erected at a pub­lic place to re­mind fu­ture gen­er­a­tions of the im­por­tance of the case and of the plight of men­tal health­care users.

He do­nated his ar­bi­tra­tion fees to des­ig­nated law schools and said he did so to al­low fu­ture lawyers to carry out the work of stand­ing up for those who can not de­fend them­selves.

The award comes af­ter the ar­bi­tra­tion hear­ing saw fam­i­lies, se­nior gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials from the health de­part­ment, mem­bers of the ex­ec­u­tive coun­cil of the prov­ince and non-profit or­gan­i­sa­tions give tes­ti­mony into the marathon project.

In a shock­ing move, in 2016 the for­mer Health MEC Qedani Mahlangu, who was fin­gered as the leader of the project, or­dered that men­tal health­care users who were based at the Life Esidi­meni health­care fa­cil­ity be moved to cut costs.

The con­tract be­tween the men­tal health care fa­cil­ity, Life Esidi­meni and the Health De­part­ment, had been in place for over 30 years.

It was brought to a halt un­der the di­rec­tion of the for­mer MEC who in­structed for­mer Head of De­part­ment Barney Sele­bano, Head of Men­tal Health, Mak­gabo Manamela and Chief Di­rec­tor of Plan­ning Levy Mosenogi, to scrap the con­tract.

Ter­mi­na­tion of the con­tract re­sulted in the deaths of over 140 pa­tients from sep­ti­caemia, hy­pother­mia and, in some in­stances, star­va­tions.

The ar­bi­tra­tor how­ever wholly re­jected Mahlangu’s rea­sons for the move based on the con­tra­dic­tory tes­ti­mony by Fi­nance MEC Barabara Creecy who said the Health De­part­ment was given the lion’s share of the pro­vin­cial bud­get year on year.

“Ms Mahlangu’s rea­sons for the move of the pa­tients were ir­ra­tional, un­law­ful and un­con­sti­tu­tional. The move was a se­ri­ous breach in health­care user pro­to­col,” said Jus­tice Moseneke.

This saw a mass move and trans­fer of pa­tients who were fer­ried to un­li­censed and ille­quipped NGOs.

“Pa­tients were trans­ported in bakkies, some with their limbs tied, this was cruel, in­hu­mane and deeply de­grad­ing. The men­tal health­care users were moved with­out proper iden­ti­fi­ca­tion and med­i­cal records and were set up for death,” said Jus­tice Moseneke.

Har­row­ing ac­counts of the lack of care at the NGOs were given by Jus­tice Moseneke who painted a grim pic­ture of the state of af­fairs of these fa­cil­i­ties.

“One of the first pa­tients to die was Ms Deb­o­rah Phetla. Her post-mortem re­vealed that she had brown pa­per and plas­tic bags in her stom­ach which she ate,” he said.

Jus­tice Moseneke said his of­fice sup­plied the South African Po­lice Ser­vice with a full record of the pro­ceed­ings but de­nied the re­quest that he or­der the SAPS to in­ves­ti­gate. He said they should do their job as man­dated by the Con­sti­tu­tion.

Sadly, 44 pa­tients who were part of the marathon project are still un­ac­counted for and re­main as miss­ing per­sons.

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