‘Rather late than never’ – sister of Esidimeni victim on Hawks probe

 Christine Nxumalo listens as the health ombudsman tables his report on Esidimeni. Picture: Felix Dlangamandla
Christine Nxumalo listens as the health ombudsman tables his report on Esidimeni. Picture: Felix Dlangamandla

Christine Nxumalo’s sister had been dead for two weeks before she found out about it.

Her sister, Virginia Macphelah, was an Alzheimer’s sufferer and a patient of Life Esidimeni for two years before being moved to Precious Angels, an unlicensed non-governmental organisation, by the Gauteng health department.

Nxumalo had reservations about the news that President Jacob Zuma had authorised the Special Investigations Unit to investigate allegations of non-performance by the non-governmental oranisations, serious maladministration from the Gauteng health department and improper or unlawful conduct by officials or employees of the department.

Nxumalo told City Press that her initial thoughts was “Why now?”

“The initial reaction from me was: ‘Yeah right. A year or so later.’ But when we understood what the investigation would do, it’s better late than never. I was initially irritated that the investigation is only happening now and not sooner. But we welcome the investigation,” Nxumalo said.

When City Press last spoke to Nxumalo in February , she and other affected families had opened a class-action law suit against the Gauteng department of health, after health ombudsman Malegapuru Makgoba revealed in a report that at least 94 patients had died after being moved from Life Esidimeni to 27 non-governmental organisations that operated illegally.

Nxumalo said that it had taken running around from the families – and liaising with the National Prosecuting Authority – to get things happening.

Solidarity Helping Hand, who has been representing the families of the 94 victims, welcomed the decision.

Read: Political parties seek justice after Esidimeni 'massacre' 

The organisation also suggested that the Hawks investigate the various departments involved into the implementation of the Public Finance Management Act, “which to a large extent governs the appointment of suppliers for government entities.”

In the health ombud’s report, an alternative dispute resolution process was suggested, and on June 12 Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi invited Helping Hand to a personal consultation.

According to Helping Hand the process has not commenced yet, but that the minister has been “consulting with the parties representing families and institutions in this matter”.

Helping Hand soon found that some patients were not included in the ombudsman’s report, because the process that the ombudsman followed “did not consider or include all the patients, institutions, incidents or structural shortfalls … and that a larger structural issue in the system is at hand”.

Nxumalo believed that the shortfalls stem immediately as a result of the lack of oversight by the department of health, because many of the non-governmental organisations began operating and treating patients even before licenses were issued to them.

“If it means that these facilities wait for three months for the various certificates then so be it. All these things must be in place before they start operating,” she said.

She also believed that they couldn’t be functioning as stand-alone organisations without regular control and visitation from the respective district officers from the department of health.

“The district needs to be more involved in terms of checking the qualifications and it must be a partnership with the department of health. In essence they are the department of health’s responsibility,” Nxumalo said.

Read: DA calls for judicial commission of inquiry following Esidimeni deaths 

Nxumalo said the problem was also that these organisations didn’t stipulate the level at which they functioned and what capacity they had to take in patients.

“There must be a classification. But before you even start looking after people you need to decide how many people you’re looking after so that the number of staff complements that. Some of the organisations even operate from a rented facility. How does that work? This whole thing has been warped and works back to front,” she said.

Since the health ombud’s report, stricter processes were implemented with regards to the licensing of non-governmental organisations. By June 29 the Gauteng department of health had issued subsidies to 132 or them, to the value of R34 million.

According to the department, the following is required for the dispensation of licences:

• A copy of the constitution of the non-profit organisation;

• Zoning or rezoning certificate, occupancy certificate;

• Certificate of acceptability of food handling;

• Health certificate;

• Board members’ information;

• Copy of business plan with costing for proposed activities;

• Proof of property ownership or lease agreement; and

• Clearance certificate from the police, and tax clearance certificate.

Avantika Seeth
Multimedia journalist
City Press
p:+27 11 713 9001
w:www.citypress.co.za  e: avantika.seeth@citypress.co.za
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