We demand a caring society
IN 2012, police shot and killed 34 striking miners at Marikana in North West, in a televised massacre of stunning brutality. This week we heard how the Gauteng Department of Health effectively sentenced 94 chronically mentally ill patients to death.
Some were starved, others died from thirst in scenes of unimaginable neglect, after the provincial department of health decided – despite countless pleas not to – to “deinstitutionalise” the treatment of hundreds of psychiatric patients, transferring them from Life Healthcare Esidimeni to ill-equipped and underresourced wholly unsuitable NGOs across the province.
The erstwhile Health MEC Qedani Mahlangu resigned in the wake of the report – a move almost unheralded in South African politics. It should be noted too that it was the premier of Gauteng, David Makhura who asked the Health Ombud Malegapuru Makgoba to investigate the controversial transfer after patients started dying and public opprobrium mounted.
While we applaud the premier for doing this and accepting the findings, why did 94 people have to die before anyone acted?
It was our founding father, Nelson Mandela who opined a nation should be judged on how it treats its lowest citizens, not its highest. The patients of Life Esidimeni were among our most vulnerable; sentenced to death by a bureaucracy that cared only for the bottom line. Mahlangu has quit, but Professor Makgoba named another 11 of her officials who he feels are as culpable. They must all be prosecuted. They must all be punished.
We often look to our history for egregious state cruelty. We are in danger of creating a new chapter – unless we draw a line in the sand right now. Today.