Life Esidimeni victims’ families were paid between R1 million each for the loss of a loved one. Picture: Itumeleng English/African News Agency/ANA
Life Esidimeni victims’ families were paid between R1 million each for the loss of a loved one. Picture: Itumeleng English/African News Agency/ANA

Life Esidimeni payout vanishes before beneficiary’s eyes

By Roland Mpofu Time of article published Jun 13, 2021

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One of the bereaved Life Esidimeni beneficiaries, who were awarded R1 million in damages for the loss of a loved one during the infamous relocation of mentally ill patients to other health facilities across Gauteng, has nothing to show for the money.

Tamara van der Merwe* (not her real name) from Johannesburg says she was provided with a lawyer by the Master’s Court to administer her funds and the lawyer charged her a R40 000 administration fee.

Life Esidimeni victims’ families were paid between R1 million each for the loss of a loved one. Picture: Itumeleng English/African News Agency/ANA

Van der Merwe was the sole beneficiary to her elder brother who died in 2016 after he was transferred to called Cullinan Care and Rehabilitation Centre in Pretoria during the marathon relocation.

She was one of the aggrieved family members who daily attended the Arbitration Dispute Resolution (ADR) chaired by retired deputy chief justice Dikgang Moseneke.

Retired deputy chief justice Dikgang Moseneke chaired the Life Esidimeni arbitration hearings into the death of more than 140 mentally ill patients in Gauteng. File photo: ANA/Brenda Masilela

Moseneke awarded R1 million damages to the families who lost their loved ones and R1.5 million to the families of the relatives that survived.

Her money appears to have been spent recklessly in less than six months. She is now accusing a lawyer of swindling her. She has even gone as far as reporting the said lawyer to the Legal Practice Council.

“Why did he (lawyer) charge me so much money yet the judge (former deputy chief justice Dikgang Moseneke) said we have to be paid for free? And why did he not pay me the whole lump sum at once?,” asked Van der Merwe.

However, her bank account reflects a sad state of affairs. She was initially paid R200 000 and another R150 000 in the same month in 2019. Within a space of two weeks, the money was gone.

Other shocking transactions were recorded in June (from the 18th to the 27th) the same year when she was being paid four sums of R35 000 each, amounting to R140 000; and another R30 000, taking the total payout to R170 000. All the money was gone within nine days. After all the withdrawals, her bank balance was down to R0.00.

When asked what she spent this large sum of money on, she said she bought furniture, groceries, and at times, her children would come ask for money for different things.

She said she also fixed her son-in-law's car for R30 000. When pressed further, Van der Merwe started to shed tears, telling how her daughter took the fridge she had bought.

“You know children, when you have something, they will constantly come to you and ask for this and that. But when you no longer have money, they stop coming,” said the 68-year-old Van der Merwe.

Her friend, who was present during the interview, said Van der Merwe once gave her R40 000.00 for accompanying her to the lawyer and also to a Gauteng provincial government’s offices.

What’s most touching now is that there’s no trace that the pensioner once had so much money. She is paying R600 a month in rent at an old age home. She has no TV or fridge. All she has is a single bed.

Making ends meet on the social grant she receives is a constant struggle as she still has to spend R500 a month on her medication. Adding insult to injury is that she now has a medical condition she can’t afford treatment for.

Asked why Van der Merwe’s compensation was paid through a lawyer, provincial government spokesperson Thabo Masebe said: “The Gauteng Provincial Government has not appointed a lawyer to represent Ms Van der Merwe.”

Meanwhile, a member of the committee representing Life Esidimeni families, Andrew Pietersen, said: “Government did not give any financial management guidance to the families after the payouts. Families were invited to contact the committee if they needed assistance.

“We did not want to impose or dictate to families how to utilise the funds. We also told them to seek guidance from qualified and reputable financial consultants/institutions.”

Efforts to get hold of the lawyer accused of swindling Van der Merwe were unsuccessful.

When the Sunday Independent went to his offices in the city centre, a security officer said he had left the building sometime in August last year.

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