The Life Esidimeni Randfontein Care Centre closed at the end of May 2016. An in-patient abuse centre opened in its place. Picture: Bhekikhaya Mabaso

Johannesburg - With many mentally ill patients having been buried illegally and without postmortems performed, the possibility of a successful inquest by police into the Life Esidimeni tragedy was questioned by lawyers on Friday.

The arbitration, on its fifth day, heard that a total of 141 mentally ill patients died after the fatal relocation from Esidimeni, with only 26 postmortems having been performed.

The provincial department admitted on Friday, that it did not have medical records of most of the patients. 

Most of the non-governmental organisations (NGOs) did not keep proper clinical records, provincial health’s acting head of department Enerst Kenoshi said.

Rights organisation, Section 27’s Advocate Adila Hassim asked how the police could conclude a successful inquest if they do not have all patients’ information.

“I am worried that if you’re not involved, there won’t be a proper inquest. On the clinical information you say you have regarding patients, do you think it is a clear clinical picture, especially for the police?” asked Hassim.

Kenoshi responded: “A lot of NGOs did not keep records, but our state hospitals have patients’ information, which was also accompanied by a doctor’s opinion. I can vouch for those who died at state hospitals, but not those who died at NGOs.”

Chairman of the arbitration, retired Justice Dikgang Moseneke remarked that there would be no justice for the relatives and families if there was no documentation of people's deaths, to which Kenoshi agreed.

Moseneke replied that maybe the police should be subpoenaed to hand over postmortem reports, as families wanted to know reasons behind the deaths of their loved ones.

Kenoshi, who took over after the suspension of Barney Selebano, said 1197 mental patients survived the Esidimeni marathon relocation project. At least 31 of them were at NGOs, 393 with families at home and the rest at state psychiatric hospital.

''It is important to state that I need to verify the number of those at home, because as I said earlier, one patient who was with family had to be rushed to hospital this morning. So some had to leave their home for treatment at hospitals,'' Kenoshi said.

In February, Gauteng Premier David Makhura suspended Selebano in the wake of recommendations by Health Ombudsman Malegapuru Makgoba, following the death of 118 psychiatric patients at ill-equipped facilities of various NGOs. 

The then Health MEC Qedani Mahlangu tendered her resignation as the saga unfolded.

At the time, Makgoba’s report found that as many as 94 mentally ill patients who were transferred from Esidimeni to unlicensed care centres died of causes that included neglect and starvation. The death toll figure rose over time as more information was discovered by Makgoba, bringing the number of deaths to 118 – a figure he revealed while testifying before the inquiry earlier this week.

The department said the reasons behind the termination of the Esidimeni contract was to cut costs and put the contract out to tender and allow other service providers to come in.