R1.2m for those dealing with ‘harrowing’ Life Esidimeni deaths: Moseneke

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Former Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke PHOTO: Deon Raath
Former Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke PHOTO: Deon Raath

Claimants in the Life Esidimeni tragedy will be paid R1 million by the South African government, in respect of the department of health, for Constitutional damages suffered, ordered former Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke.

On Monday, Moseneke delivered his 100-page report into the findings based on the Life Esidimeni arbitration hearings.

In addition to this amount, the government was directed to pay R20 000 for funeral expenses to the families and R180 000 to each claimant for the shock and psychological trauma that was caused to them.

Moseneke said that the amounts should be paid in a lump sum no later than three months from today or June 19.

The government was also ordered to pay the legal fees of the claimants.

Moseneke said – after months of harrowing testimony delivered by officials and family members on what 144 mentally ill patients endured while being transferred to ill-equipped non-governmental organisations from Life Esidimeni Hospital in 2015 – that it was a “harrowing account of the death, torture and disappearance of utterly vulnerable healthcare users in the care of an admittedly delinquent provincial government”.

The Life Esidimeni arbitration hearings took place from October last year and concluded in February this year.

Moseneke told a story of anguish endured by the families who were affected by the deaths.

“It is now undisputed that as a result of their move out of the Life Esidimeni facilities after the first of October 2015, 144 mental healthcare users died and 1480 were exposed to trauma and mobility among other results, but survived,” Moseneke said.

Moseneke stated that the reasons presented by the health department as to why, after 30 years, the contract with Life Esidimeni was terminated, were “fabricated”.

“The testimony of the premier, minister and members of the executive convinced me that the reasons given by the three officials were fabricated.”

The three officials Moseneke referred to were former Gauteng health MEC Qedani Mahlangu, former Gauteng health head Dr Barney Selebano and former chief director of mental health Dr Makgabo Manamela.

Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi also testified at the hearings. During an emotional testimony he said the deaths of the healthcare users should not have happened.

Moseneke also found that the condition of the non-governmental organisations that the mental healthcare users were transferred to were both inadequate and insufficient to provide the necessary mental and physical care that they needed.

“The mental healthcare users were trapped and ultimately died,” he said.

Referring to the health ombuds report into the Life Esidimeni tragedy, named the Makgoba report after Professor Malegapuru Makgoba, Moseneke concurred that the findings, some of which were disputed by Mahlangu during her appearance at the hearings, were completely “spot on”.

Makgoba found that a “high-level decision” to terminate the Esidimeni contract precipitously was taken, followed by a “programme of action” with disastrous outcomes or consequences including the deaths of assisted mental healthcare users.

Evidence identified three key players in the project: Mahlangu, Selebano and Manamela. Their fingerprints are “peppered” throughout the project, he found.

When Mahlangu was questioned about this finding during the hearings, she refused to accept accountability for her role in the tragedy.

On January 22 this year, Mahlangu was questioned by Section 27 Advocate Adila Hassam, who also represented the families of the victims. She asked Mahlangu if she agreed with the findings of the report.

“I have already said that I do not agree with those findings,” she responded.

Moseneke today called Mahlangu out, saying that she was, in fact, responsible for the Life Esidimeni project and that she was obligated to act in accordance with the Constitution.

“[She] was responsible for the executive decision with the project, she was accountable individually and collectively and she bore the duty to give reports to the legislature,” he said.

“She acted with impunity thinking that she would get away with it because the users and their families were poorly resourced,” he said.

Moseneke, who presided as a voice of reason throughout the arbitration proceedings, said today that he would be donating his arbitration fees to fund students in “chosen law schools”, to which he received a rousing applause.

Moseneke said that he trusted that the government would award the claimants their money, without him setting up an additional arbitration process.

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