Violation of dignity at centre of Life Esidimeni trauma – lawyer

Johannesburg – The violation of the dignity of the Life Esidimeni patients and their families lies at the heart of the legal argument made by Section 27.

Advocate Adila Hassim, on behalf of Section 27, which represents more than 60 families who lost loved ones during the transfer of Life Esidimeni patients to a number of NGOs, some of which were unlicensed, recounted the testimonies of family members, government officials and experts on Thursday morning.

ALSO READ: Deal for Life Esidimeni families to receive R200 000 each, while other claims are being determined

After more than 40 days of testimony, the hearings into the deaths of at least 140 mental healthcare patients were drawing to an end.

Hassim said the entire disaster saw the patients and their families deprived of one of their most basic rights – the right to dignity.

"Their dignity was violated in the most wanton and flagrant manner... We submit in other words that the claimants were stripped of their dignity in the manner in which this matter was handled," Hassim said.

During her argument, she went through the conditions and treatment the patients were subjected to as well as the conduct of the Gauteng health department and some of its officials.

Secondary trauma

"There was a total disregard for human dignity... In other words, the lack of dignity, the failure to uphold the human dignity of the mental healthcare users when they were alive, continued after they were dead," she said.

"[Family members] have said that the treatment of their relatives was worse than that of a township dog."

Hassim said the evidence the arbitration hearings heard about how there was a lack of food, security, access to medication, professional care, clothes and reports of suspected abuse "painted a ghastly picture".

READ: Family suffers amid Esidimeni blame game

Hassim said the abuse and neglect the Life Esidimeni patients experienced could only have happened to "a marginalised and disempowered" group of people such as mental healthcare patients who still experienced a lot of stigma in society.

Arbitration hearing chair former deputy chief justice Dikgang Moseneke said: "The secondary trauma in the way the deceased's bodies were handled... it must have caused massive trauma [for the families]. I'm not a psychologist, but it is mere common sense."

Earlier, Hassim announced that an agreement which included a claim of R20 000 for funeral expenses, and R180 000 for emotional shock and psychological injury per family had been reached between the social justice organisation and the state.

However, Moseneke reminded those present at the hearings that only he could award damages and equitable relief as arbitrator, and that it would be done once counsel had presented its final arguments and he had deliberated on the matter.

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