Life Esidimeni: SIU wins civil case against 2 Gauteng health service providers

Family members of the Life Esidimeni victims demand answers. (Nation Nyoka, News24, file)
Family members of the Life Esidimeni victims demand answers. (Nation Nyoka, News24, file)

The Special Investigating Unit (SIU) will recover more than R600 000 from two Gauteng health department service providers after a successful probe into the Life Esidimeni tragedy, the unit said.

"We are pleased to advise on the successful order that was granted in relation to the Life Esidimeni investigation against two service providers. The SIU is now executing on the judgment and any money received will be paid to the Gauteng provincial department of health," the unit said in a statement on Friday.

In terms of the Special Investigating Units and Special Tribunals Act of 1996, the SIU had been tasked with probing matters relating to unlawful and improper conduct on the part of 28 non-governmental organisations (NGOs) tasked with the care of mental health patients.

In 2017, then president Jacob Zuma issued a proclamation, mandating the SIU to investigate the Life Esidimeni tragedy and whether NGOs were paid "in a manner that was not fair, transparent, equitable and contrary to applicable legislation".

An "ill-fated marathon project" to transfer patients from the Life Esidimeni healthcare facility to NGOs across the Gauteng province resulted in the death of 144 mental healthcare users.

The Gauteng High Court in Pretoria granted judgment against the defendants, The Anchor Center for the Intellectually Disabled and Dorothy Evangeline Franks, and they were ordered to pay R663 275.03.

"The SIU will follow up and ensure that the said money is recovered and paid back to the department. SIU findings uncovered that these service providers continued to submit invoices to the Gauteng department of health long after the patients were removed," the statement read.

In February 2017, Health Ombudsman Professor Malegapuru Makgoba revealed in a report that numerous patients had died after being transferred from Life Healthcare Esidimeni to various NGOs across Gauteng due to cost-cutting measures. The report also found that several human rights were violated in the process. 

"The SIU will follow-up to ensure that action is taken against the NGOs and consequence management meted out against officials implicated," the SIU maintained. 

Furthermore, the SIU is in the process of instituting civil action against the owners of a further nine NGOs.

The SIU intends to complete this investigation by November 2019 and submit a final report to the president.

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