Retired Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke is heading the arbitration hearings between the State and the families of victims in the Life Esidimeni tragedy Picture: Nokuthula Mbatha/ANA

Johannesburg - Seventeen intellectually challenged children died at a Soweto NGO in 2007 after they were removed from Life Esidimeni by the Gauteng health department, the arbitration hearing held in Johannesburg heard on Wednesday.

This was revealed by Life Esidimeni manager Dr Morgan Mkhatshwa at the hearing, chaired by retired Justice Dikgang Moseneke.

“The children were taken out of Life Esidimeni, to an NGO called Khwezilokusa in Soweto. Seventeen of them died, those who survived were returned to Esidimeni by the department,” Mkhatshwa said, sending the audience into a shock.

“Upon their return, we found that the children were malnourished and severely dehydrated.” 

The Esidimeni tragedy was part of the department’s plan to de-instutionalise mental patients and place them at NGOs. The department said the move was meant to save costs and allow new health service providers in.