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Families of 144 Life Esidimeni victims crying out for justice for their loved ones

Picture: Nhlanhla Phillips/African News Agency (ANA) Archives

Picture: Nhlanhla Phillips/African News Agency (ANA) Archives

Published Mar 19, 2021


Johannesburg - The families of 144 mental health patients who died under mysterious circumstances have urged the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) to set up a date for an inquest into the deaths to allow them to find closure.

On Thursday, family spokesperson Christine Nxumalo expressed hope after Gauteng MEC for Community Safety Faith Mazibuko revealed in his written reply to questions by the DA’s spokesperson on health, Jack Bloom, that a judge has been appointed to conduct the inquest.

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Nxumalo said their hope for closure began in January last year, when Justice Minister Ronald Lamola announced that he had asked North Gauteng Judge President Dunstan Mlambo to appoint a judge to conduct a hearing.

“We only got a response about the matter from the NPA in September last year. At the time, they had just confirmed that a judge had been appointed and promised to give us more details. We had been waiting since. They told us that the outbreak of Covid-19 had prevented the sitting of the inquest hearings.

“We were not happy, but there was nothing we could do,” she said.

Nxumalo and other families are now hoping that the NPA will set a date for the hearing.

These families have been making these calls since August 2016, and they believe the inquest would provide enough evidence to allow the NPA to prosecute those who were responsible for the tragedy.

Mazibuko, in her reply to what accounted for the delay in finalising an inquest into the deaths of the patients, said: “The Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development (Ronald Lamola) directed that a joint formal inquest must be held in the Gauteng High Court in Pretoria. The Judge President (Dunstan Mlambo) appointed a judge for the inquest. All evidential material was put at her disposal.”

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She confirmed that the inquest would probe the 144 deaths, but said a date for the inquest must still be determined.

Mazibuko did not want to divulge whether law enforcement agencies were investigating any other contraventions, but said the “investigation, as guided by the NPA, has been finalised”.

“The South African Police Service (SAPS) is not able to comment on the possible contraventions at this stage,” Mazibuko said.

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She also did not want to comment on whether criminal charges were laid in connection with the deaths, opting to say that the presiding judge would determine whether any charges should be registered.

According to Mazibuko, two detectives were assigned to investigate the deaths, but maintained that the investigations into all 144 deaths have been finalised.

“The NPA will determine the date of the inquests,” Mazibuko said.

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The NPA is expected to announce the date in due course.

In his reaction, Bloom said: “I welcome the appointment of a judge in this matter, but more progress needs to be made to ensure justice for the victims.

“This case has dragged on for nearly five years since the deaths of the mental patients. I hope a date for the inquest is set soon, so charges can be brought against the perpetrators and they are punished by the court.”

While Mazibuko said no criminal charges have been preferred yet against any of the perpetrators, in November 2016, the family and Section 27 had already reported criminal cases to the police.

At the time, the families and Section 27 said they had referred the deaths of all patients to the SAPS (in accordance with the Inquests Act) so that these deaths may be investigated and referred for prosecution or judicial inquests.

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Health Welfare