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Wednesday, June 29, 2022

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Life Esidimeni tragedy, a devastating violation of human rights under democratic SA

The most devastating violation of human rights under democratic governance occurred when 143 people at psychiatric institutions were sent to their premature deaths at various Life Esidimeni hospitals by careless officials, says the writer. Picture: Chris Collingridge

The most devastating violation of human rights under democratic governance occurred when 143 people at psychiatric institutions were sent to their premature deaths at various Life Esidimeni hospitals by careless officials, says the writer. Picture: Chris Collingridge

Published Mar 29, 2021

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By Farouk Arie

The entire nation celebrated Human Rights Day in honour of our heroes who were massacred in Sharpeville on March 21, 1960.

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Sadly we forgot about those who died during the Langa massacre on March 21, 1985, and the Marikana massacre on August 16, 2012.

The most devastating violation of human rights under democratic governance occurred when 143 people at psychiatric institutions were sent to their premature deaths at various Life Esidimeni hospitals by careless officials. None of them have been prosecuted. The patients’ right to life and liberty was cruelly violated.

The 143 deaths that occurred under the watch of a former Health MEC must be investigated by the NPA. Legitimate public bodies have the right, authority and duty to inflict punishment proportionate to the gravity of this avoidable tragedy.

Punishment has the primary aim of redressing the absolute seriousness of this monumental disaster that has befallen our nation. It ranks alongside Sharpeville, Langa and Marikana.

The entire nation is crestfallen. Unintentional death is not morally imputable. But one is not exonerated from such a grave offence if, without proportionate reasons, those involved had acted in a way that brought about the death of 143 frail patients, even without the intention to do so.

The former MEC’s actions are tantamount to gross medical negligence. A health-care provider’s state of mind involves a situation in which the provider “should have been aware” of “a substantial and unjustifiable risk”, but was not. Can we truly claim to have a modern, humane health system when we have frail, frightened, elderly people in the care of incompetent nursing staff?

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What occurred was uncivilised, disgraceful and disrespectful. Yet it has been going on to varying degrees as the population ages, and it’s getting worse, not better.

The current crisis under Covid-19 makes for chilling reading, especially if you have a loved one who routinely needs proper medical care.

Health officials should be compelled to act for humanitarian as well as economic reasons. The 143 deaths are a crime against humanity and a violation of the constitutional rights of the deceased. It’s a perverse scenario that plays out daily, with increasing frequency. There can be no doubt that all the officials identified in the Health Ombudsman’s report bear responsibility for allowing this heartbreaking tragedy to occur under their watch. His findings have shaken the entire nation into a new moral awareness.

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We have become delusional. Forgetting that life is absolutely intrinsic and inviolable.

After the Marikana tragedy, a judicial commission of inquiry was instituted. It is imperative that President Cyril Ramaphosa appoints a commission of inquiry to investigate.

This tragedy is a blot on our democracy.

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In a tragedy of this magnitude, “Not only must justice be done, it must be seen to be done”.

The Star

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