'A name means so much' – sister of Life Esidimeni victim slams DA billboard

A relative of a Life Esidimeni victim has lambasted the DA for disrespecting the deceased by using their names on a billboard.

"For them to put up a billboard, not even a place of remembrance, a dignified place, is disrespectful. A billboard is for advertising. They are advertising the names of these people. For so many people to support this is mind-blowing. Until it happens to you, you never understand the pain and suffering," said Christine Nxumalo.

The DA on Wednesday unveiled a campaign billboard with the names of the victims of Marikana, Life Esidimeni and the children who have died in pit toilets around the country. The party claimed that the ANC was the cause of these tragedies and also blamed the party for crime-related deaths in South Africa.

Nxumalo said the billboard was distasteful and caused harm to grieving families. Her sister Virginia Machpelah, 53, was moved between facilities at least five times through various non-profits, leaving her family unable to locate her.

"When we did eventually find her, she had passed on," an emotional Nxumalo told News24 on Thursday.

Nxumalo said Machpelah's daughter died a year later of broken heart syndrome, leaving her family with a double tragedy.

DA open to engagement

"There is so much pain and anxiety that came with this. It was not just the victims, but families also. We felt we were just getting to terms with things. Clearly, we are not being given the opportunity to do that."

Nxumalo added: "A name means so much. It means everything. To just use it any way you feel is not okay."

She said the DA and Maimane should have considered the families of the victims.

"It shows a lack of remorse or understanding. Where is the moral compass? Where are the principles?"

In response, the DA said it was open to engage with the families and the public regarding the thought that went into it unveiling the billboard. 

DA spokesperson Solly Malatsi said that the names of victims were publicised extensively on various media platforms including print, television, radio and online.

Families not approached

"The names are something that is public knowledge and extensively been a source of public consumption, be it print media, social media and even in government reports."

He added: "Having the names of those individuals on the billboard is not publication of any personal information that has not been in the public domain."

However, premier candidate Solly Msimanga acknowledged that none of the affected families had been approached. 

"We are open to engaging with the families or whoever might be coming through in terms of the thought that went into this," Msimanga said on Thursday. 

He said the party was also willing to listen to family members about the hurt that the board may have caused.  

ALSO READ: 'ANC is killing us' - DA unveils billboard listing names of Marikana, Life Esidimeni victims

"It's something that the leaders will also engage internally, in terms of how we will then engage with the families and how we will communicate and deal with this matter going forward," Msimanga said. 

ANC criticises DA

Provincial leader John Moodeyy added that putting up the billboard was not a way of capitalising on the families' hurt. 

"Something that we need to keep in the thoughts of our people is that these tragedies happened to families, but they have affected us as South Africans, because it is a government that is uncaring that has caused these unfortunate deaths," said Moodey. 

Following the unveiling of the board, the ANC said it would take up the matter in the appropriate forums provided for in the country's electoral laws.

"The antics of the DA expose the bankruptcy of their politics and the levels of desperation they have descended to. This is a party whose politics have become toxic, [which believes] that fear mongering and spreading lies will frighten voters [into supporting] them in the upcoming elections," acting ANC spokesperson Zizi Kodwa said in a statement.

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