LIVE FEED: Inquest into 144 Life Esidimeni deaths
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Johannesburg - The alleged role of former Gauteng Health MEC Qedani Mahlangu in the illegal transfer and subsequent death of 144 mental health patients at bogus care centres will come under sharp focus at the inquest hearing probing their deaths.
The matter is set to be heard in the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria on Monday.
The families of the 144 victims are expected to take the stand and testify before Judge Mnonoa Teffo about their troubles and grief since the Gauteng Health Department terminated the contract of Life Esidimeni Healthcare in Krugersdorp.
Life Esidimeni was contracted to look after more than 2 000 patients, but Mahlangu and her senior officials, who included former head of department Dr Barney Selebano, allegedly terminated the contracts because of financial constraints in June 2015.
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On Sunday, DA health spokesperson Jack Bloom said the inquest should seek full accountability for those responsible, including Mahlangu.
“I hope that all relevant witnesses give evidence which can lead to criminal charges against those who caused the deaths. While direct culpability lies with people in the NGOs where the mental health patients died, Mahlangu and senior health department officials should not be let off the hook for their role in this tragedy,” Bloom said.
He said charges should also include contraventions of the Mental Health Act and the fraudulent licensing of the NGOs where the patients were sent.
Bloom said the evidence should also lead to charges for the maltreatment of those patients who survived.
“It is essential that there are no further delays in achieving justice for the relatives of those who died five years ago,” Bloom said.
Last week, the South African Depression and Anxiety Group said they and other civil society organisations such as Section27, upon hearing about the termination of the contract, lodged two court cases to reverse it, but Gauteng Health went ahead with the transfer.
Now, the National Prosecuting Authority, through the evidence leader, is expected to lead the testimonies of a number of witnesses - some of them are expected to testify about their ordeal of finding the bodies of their loved one in hospitals and mortuaries.
The State is also expected to lead evidence of expert witnesses, who are expected to testify about the impact the transfer of the patients to the bogus centres had on their well-being, including lack of medical care and personnel trained to deal with mental health patients.
Most of the centres were located in Pretoria, and the families had to travel from all parts of the country to search for them moments after news of their death took centre stage in 2016.
Investigations by the Health Ombudsman, Dr Malegapuru Makgoba, and later the dispute arbitration by retired Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke, found that the centres did not have the requisite medical certificate or permits to look after mental health patients.
Justice Moseneke ordered the Gauteng government to compensate victims and survivors of the ordeal.
The findings came after Justice Moseneke heard gruelling evidence of how these families, on their own, had to discover the bodies of their loved ones in mortuaries and hospitals.
One of the family members, Christine Nxumalo, told the media last week that the families have compiled a petition to lobby the government to erect a memorial hospital for mental health patients, similar to the Nelson Mandela Children’s Hospital in Parktown.
“We do not want the story of our family members to die. We want the government to build a memorial hospital for them; a hospital similar to the Nelson Mandela Children’s Hospital.
“We want mental health care patients to know that justice is also available for them.
“We certainly do not want a memorial stone which will cost more than a million rand. We want a place where these mental healthcare patients will be treated and cared for,” Nxumalo said.