Eight Life Esidimeni patients still missing five years later
Johannesburg - Gauteng Health MEC Nomathemba Mokgethi has admitted her department was still searching for the whereabouts of eight mental health patients who were reported missing at Life Esidimeni, almost five years ago.
Mokgethi made the revelations in her written reply in the Gauteng provincial legislature to questions by the DA’s spokesperson on health Jack Bloom.
Bloom had asked the MEC to provide details on the number of mental health patients who have not been located or accounted for, and what efforts have been made to find them.
In her reply, Mokgethi placed the number at eight despite scepticism from the Life Esidimeni family committee that more patients were still unaccounted for.
But Mokgethi maintained her department had conducted home visits for those whose addresses were provided, including contacting the Department of Home Affairs and Sassa for assistance.
“Names and birth dates were sent to check if mental health care users have applied for IDs and also whether they are receiving disability grants. Life Esidimeni head office was also engaged, and they assisted with four files of mental health care users. Four out of eight patients, therefore, do not have files,” Mokgethi said.
She said a case of missing patients had been opened with the police to assist in locating them saying her department was continuously checking for the patients at all facilities in case new information emerged.
According to Mokgethi, the reason for the delay was due to the fact that it was “difficult and time consuming to trace for patients” if their personal information was not available.
“Home Affairs and Sassa could not trace patients without ID numbers. Date of birth provided do not exist and telephone numbers of family members and home addresses provided are incorrect. Some calls go to voicemail,” she said.
Mokgethi, however, remained hopeful the patients could still be found saying “once accurate information of patients is made available or found, It will be easy to make an assessment as to where the patients are/were located”.
Despite the glitches, Mokgethi said their investigations were continuing.
Asked what is the likelihood that any missing patients are still alive, Mokgethi said: “Only if the correct information about the mental health care user is found, we will be able to confirm the status quo.”
Bloom, however, appeared unconvinced saying: “It is nearly five years since the transfers of patients from Life Esidimeni to illegal NGOs in June 2016, so it is unlikely that any of the missing patients are still alive.
“The terrible possibility is that some of the missing patients died at the NGOs, but we will never know as their bodies may have been secretly disposed of. There have been 144 confirmed deaths, but the true Esidimeni death toll should probably include the 8 patients whose fate is currently unknown,” Bloom said.
Earlier this month, Life Esidimeni family committee spokesperson Christine Nxumalo made the plea to health officials who knew about the fate of these patients to avail themselves and testify at the planned inquest hearing this month.
Nxumalo’s plea came after Judge Mnonoa of the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria issued a directive to the families of the victims to avail themselves for the hearings.
The first meeting is scheduled for April 19, but the Life Esidimeni committee also extended the invitation to health officials who dealt with the patients and had knowledge about the removal of Life Esidimeni to the various centres mostly in Pretoria.