ANC kicks sand in the faces of Life Esidi­meni vic­tims’ fam­i­lies

Weekend Argus (Sunday Edition) - - OPINION - Den­nis Pather

TWO DAYS after Black Con­scious­ness leader Steve Biko died naked and shack­led on a filthy floor in se­cu­rity po­lice cus­tody in 1977, apartheid po­lice min­is­ter Jimmy Kruger made a state­ment that would go down as one of the most shame­ful, stag­ger­ingly cal­lous in re­cent his­tory.

Ad­dress­ing his party faith­ful at a Na­tional Party congress, he said (in Afrikaans) of Biko’s death: “I am not glad and I am not sorry about Mr Biko. It leaves me cold (Dit laat my koud).

“I can say noth­ing to you.

“Any per­son who dies… I shall also be sorry if I die,” he said in a mock­ingly non­cha­lant tone, to rip­ples of laugh­ter from his au­di­ence.

The ANC was a banned or­gan­i­sa­tion at the time, so news­pa­pers were pro­hib­ited from pub­lish­ing what its lead­ers had to say about Biko’s death or Kruger’s egre­gious re­ac­tion.

But one can safely as­sume that among the 18 000 mourn­ers at Biko’s fu­neral in King Wil­liam’s Town were a sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of ANC com­rades, sick­ened by the bru­tal killing of one of South Africa’s fore­most lib­er­a­tion heroes.

Which brings me to the re­cent Life Esidi­meni episode in which more than 140 men­tal health pa­tients were trans­ferred to ill-equipped non-gov­ern­men­tal or­gan­i­sa­tion fa­cil­i­ties and left to die in cold, hunger and lone­li­ness.

This was a tragedy of mon­u­men­tal pro­por­tions which hor­ri­fied the na­tion.

Much of the ev­i­dence of suf­fer­ing and heart­less ne­glect at the Esidi­meni hear­ings brought tears to my eyes, and I’m sure to many ANC sup­port­ers too.

As re­tired judge Dik­gang Moseneke said at the hear­ing, Qedani Mahlangu was at the helm of the pro­ject and “ig­nored and in­deed brushed aside warn­ings on many lev­els that death might en­sue, and death did en­sue”. With such a dark cloud hang­ing over her head, one would have ex­pected Mahlangu to have stayed in the back­ground and, at the very least, put on an ap­pear­ance of aton­ing for her role.

But she had other ideas. Kick­ing sand in the face of the fam­i­lies still mourn­ing the deaths of their loved ones from Esidi­meni, she bounced back by seek­ing re-elec­tion to the ANC’s Gaut­eng ex­ec­u­tive.

Here was an op­por­tu­nity for the ANC to tell Mahlangu where to get off but they, quite dis­grace­fully, sided with her. One by one, they put up their hand to vote for a per­son who many be­lieve should have been held crim­i­nally re­spon­si­ble for the deaths of so many in a tragedy South Africa will not eas­ily for­get.

Is this the same ANC that mourned Biko’s death and was en­raged by Kruger’s cal­lous re­marks? Such in­sen­si­tiv­ity leaves me puz­zled.

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