Family members rejoice after the announcement of the Life Esidimeni findings by ex-deputy chief justice Dikgang Moseneke.
THE Gauteng government has been left with a massive headache of choosing which projects and services to sacrifice to honour the multi-million rand Life Esidimeni tragedy compensation.

Retired deputy chief justice Dikgang Moseneke awarded more than R250 million to 144 family members of psychiatric patients who died when they were moved from Life Esidimeni facilities to unregistered NGOs. The compensation will also be awarded to about 68 survivors of the so-called Gauteng Mental Health Marathon Project.

The retired judge ordered that each family be paid R1m for constitutional damages, R180 000 for trauma and shock, R20 000 for funeral expenses, all of which should be paid within three months. The money excludes the claimants' legal fees and counselling which are expected to also run into millions.

He also ordered that a monument be built as a memorial to the victims.

The arbitration process has already cost Premier David Makhura’s office R47m to cover venue costs, video production, transportations of families, lawyers and sign language and interpretation services.

Provincial government spokesperson Thabo Masebe welcomed the award and said his office had long prepared for the outcome.

However, despite their preparations Masebe said they would have to consult with provincial Treasury and then adjust their budget in order to meet the judge's ruling. The amount is also way above the R28m that Finance MEC Barbara Creecy had allocated to Life Esidimeni when she tabled her budget last month.

“Treasury will allocate a budget. We will have to have a budget adjustment to find the money within government. The R28m was a provisional allocation. We now know how much we have to pay. We will go back to Treasury and calculate exactly how much money will be required and make sure we have that money in order to comply with the order,” said Masebe.

He said his office would be responsible for all the Life Esidimeni payouts. He was confident that no services would suffer as a result.

Reacting just hours after the hard hitting order delivered by former justice Moseneke, the ANC in Gauteng said former health MEC Qedani Mahlangu would now appear before an integrity committee. Provincial secretary Hope Papo said: “In line with the decisions of the PEC, (Mahlangu) will appear before the ANC provincial integrity committee as part of the process of internal accountability with the organisation.”

The date of her appearance will still be announced.

When giving his ruling in the Life Esidimeni arbitration yesterday, justice Moseneke accused Mahlangu, former head of department Dr Tiego Selebano and former head of mental health services Dr Makgabo Manamela of feigning ignorance on how bad the mental health marathon project actually was. He found that the removal of patients from Life Esidimeni facilities to unregistered NGOs was irrational and cruel.

Stopping just short of ordering arrest, the judge strongly implored the police to do their job and ensure that justice was served.

However Jack Bloom, DA shadow MEC on health in the Gauteng Provincial Legislature, said the province did not have enough money to manage the compensation within such a short space of time.

“”They don't have the money and can only do the budget adjustment in November which will be very late because they need to pay everyone by June. They will be left with no choice but to get money from other departments and channel it to the Life Esidimeni payouts,” Bloom.

Papo said the provincial government needed to do whatever it took to ensure the Life Esidimeni matter was speedily settled.

“We welcome the fact that MEC Creecy made budgetary provisions in anticipation of today's award announcement. Where there are shortfalls, the provincial government should make necessary adjustments in order not to inconvenience the affected families,” said Papo.

Among the recommendations were for government to report the conduct of health professionals involved in the relocation of Life Esidimeni patients to their respective health boards.

Selebano said he was unaware of this decision when called yesterday but seemed willing to take whatever was thrown at him.

Section27 welcomed the ruling, saying that it was a major step towards the new culture of accountability in the public service.

Legal Aid South Africa, which represented 58 claimants, said it would keep the Gauteng government on its toes to comply with the award.