Undesirable, dehumanised and tortured - expert speaks of Life Esidimeni trauma

Johannesburg – A clinical psychologist has testified about the severe social stresses and trauma the Life Esidimeni patients would’ve faced after being transferred to a number of unlicensed NGOs, which resulted in the deaths of 143 people.

Coralie Trotter, a clinical psychologist, told the Life Esidimeni arbitration hearings on Friday that the patients would have experienced severe trauma when they were moved out of a familiar environment without properly being prepared for those transfers.

"Without preparation… that then becomes a shock. It is no longer just a move, it is a shock to the system," Trotter said.

A sense of empowerment

She explained that it is a shock for anyone to move and change their environments, but even more so for mental health patients, who make up some of the most vulnerable people. If more preparation had taken place, she said there would have been a sense of more empowerment.

Trotter added that the treatment of patients, especially following their death, and the responses from officials would have caused further trauma to the families who had lost loved ones.

She described their treatment as being similar to torture.

"Once you decide a group of people are undesirable and they are then dehumanised, that becomes torture," she said.

Trotter referred to interviews she had with the relatives of the deceased patients who described the treatment of their loved ones as being worse than animals.

Horrifying treatment

"The families had a clear sense that the people they loved were treated like less than human," she said.

Trotter said the families have not even started with the grieving period, because they were still experiencing the trauma they and their relatives had to go through.

She said more information such as access to autopsy reports, explanations of what happened to their family members and why it happened, and sincere apologies from those responsible would allow the families to heal and get the closure they deserve.

Earlier on Friday, lawyers for the former Gauteng MEC for health Qedani Mahlangu met with arbitration chair, former deputy chief justice Dikgang Moseneke and other legal representatives to discuss a date she would appear at the hearings.

READ: 'I need no subpoena', says Qedani Mahlangu on Life Esidimeni hearing

Mahlangu's legal team said she would be available to testify in January 2018 following the completion of a module for her masters of business administration.

The Global Banking School in Bedfordshire in the United Kingdom, however, said earlier in the week that Mahlangu has been suspended due to "the severity of the allegations" against her.

Health Ombudsman Professor Malegapuru Makgoba also updated the hearings on his updated figure for the number of patients who had died. It had since risen to 143 people.

The hearings continue on Monday.

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