Families are anxious over relocation of 400 former Esidimeni patients

The families of about 400 mental patients are anxious about a letter they have received from the Clinix Solomon Stix Morewa (Selby Park) private hospital which indicates that they will be moved elsewhere with little indication of when and where they will go.

Most of these mental patients were formerly at Life Esidimeni and were then rescued from poor conditions at NGOs and placed at private hospitals, including Selby Park in inner city Johannesburg.

The Gauteng Health Department appointed this hospital to care for these mental patients since March 2017 on a four-year contract which expired in April last year. It has been renewed on a month-to-month basis since then subject to a maximum period of 6 months, which ended in September, and then extended for another 6 months, which ends on 31 March this year.

According to the letter sent by the hospital management:

“This means that at any time, on a month’s notice or less, the Department may terminate our services and we will no longer be entrusted with the care of your loved ones.

We are, however, concerned about the short extension periods and the possible impact to you and your loved ones, and if your loved ones relocated to different facilities is not planned well and far ahead in advance. Clinix is in discussion with the Department in this regard.”

I am most concerned by the department’s failure to organise new contracts for the care of hundreds of mental health patients who are once again faced with disruptive relocation at short notice.

Have they learnt nothing from the Life Esidimeni tragedy in which 144 patients died and others suffered terribly because of botched transfers to NGOs that could not care for them?

The Democratic Alliance calls on the department to ensure a smooth transfer to decent facilities and communicate directly with the affected families to allay their anxiety about the welfare of their loved ones.

Gauteng cancer crisis will cost more lives than Esidimeni

The lives of more than 2000 cancer patients are at risk as they face a long wait for treatment in Gauteng public hospitals.

This cancer crisis was brought to the attention of Gauteng Health MEC Nomathemba Mokgethi in November last year by the Cancer Alliance and Treatment Action Campaign, but the Gauteng Health Department has yet to respond with effective action.

I am most concerned at the 72 vacancies at the Radiation department of the Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Hospital, which is also plagued by broken and outdated machinery. They urgently need the following machinery to cut the alarming treatment backlogs:

  • 2 small Linac machines
  • 2 HDR Brachy machines
  • 1 MRI Linac machine

More than 1000 men with prostate cancer are on the list for radiation treatment, but many of them will suffer terribly and die because they have to wait as long as five years.

There are also about 500 women with breast cancer waiting for more than a year for radiotherapy.

Another 300 women wait between 4 to 6 months for cervical cancer treatment.

If nothing is done urgently, there will be far more cancer deaths that could have been avoided than the 144 mental patients who died in the Life Esidimeni tragedy.

As the tender processes for new radiation machines are extremely slow, the best solution is a private/public partnership to save lives by drastically cutting the treatment backlogs.

There are already discussions with the Netcare Hospital Group to assist with treatment of public cancer patients, but Treasury has not made funds available to take it further.

The Democratic Alliance calls on the Gauteng Provincial Government to urgently adopt solutions to save the lives of hundreds of cancer patients

Gauteng government pays millions for Esidimeni accused

The Gauteng Provincial Government is footing the legal bill for all current and former officials who have been subpoenaed to give evidence at the Life Esidimeni Inquest to determine the cause of death of 144 mental health patients who died after they were sent to unsuitable NGOs.

This disturbing information is disclosed by Gauteng Premier David Makhura in a written reply to my questions in the Gauteng Legislature.

Makhura says this is being done according to a legal opinion that “Government has an obligation to provide legal representation as a basic principle and standard practice.”

The State Attorney has therefore been instructed to appoint legal representatives for these officials, including state attorneys and attorneys from the following law firms:

  • Werksmans Attorneys
  • Ramsay Webber Attorneys
  • Robert H Kanarek Attorneys

It is unfortunate that these legal costs for officials who are implicated in the deaths will amount to millions of rand as these are expensive law firms,.

It is unclear whether former Health MEC Qedani Mahlangu also qualifies for state-funded legal aid. I will ask further questions on this as she is wealthy enough to pay for her own legal costs.

The DA has repeatedly requested Premier David Makhura to use the Apportionment of Damages Act to ensure that Mahlangu and her top officials pay from their own pockets towards the more than R300 million paid out to the Esidimeni victims. This is even more justified now that the provincial government is paying millions more in legal expenses.

Meanwhile, the inquest into the deaths has been delayed by the legal representation issues, and families of those who died still have to wait for justice to be done.

I acknowledge that the government is following a legal opinion in this matter, but all these extra costs at the taxpayers’ expense would have been avoided if the Esidimeni tragedy did not happen in the first place.


Premier’s role in Esidimeni deaths should also be probed

The legal representative for former Gauteng Health MEC Qedani Mahlangu has claimed at the inquest into the Life Esidimeni tragedy that Premier David Makhura took “the ultimate decision to transfer the mental health patients.”

This is in stark contrast to Makhura’s claim that he did not know that the patients were being moved to NGOs.

I have always maintained that Makhura knew what was happening as there were many media reports as well as Mahlangu’s oral reply in the Gauteng Legislature on 15 March 2016 when I asked whether NGOs were ready to receive the patients.

Mahlangu replied as follows: “Progress we have made with the NGOS: we have activated more than 2000 beds, including beds that are in the provincial facilities, as we speak now. The NGOs have hired the staff. They have also been given licenses.”

I hope that the inquest fully probes the premier’s involvement, but this should not exempt Mahlangu from her own culpability for the deaths of the 144 patients.

It is far-fetched to claim that she was not personally responsible as she was the driving force in closing down Life Esidimeni which was presented as a cost-saving measure.

I repeatedly warned in the Gauteng Legislature that it was likely to be a disaster, and so did other organisations on behalf of the patients’ families.

There is an important principle at stake here that politicians should not be able to escape responsibility by blaming officials.

Local Government Elections are coming up in 2021! Visit check.da.org.za to check your voter registration status.

Esidimeni inquest should ensure full accountability for deaths, including Qedani Mahlangu

The inquest into the 144 Life Esidimeni deaths which begins tomorrow (19 July) should seek full accountability for those responsible, including former Health MEC Qedani Mahlangu.

I hope that all relevant witnesses give evidence which can lead to criminal charges against those who caused the deaths.

While direct culpability lies with people in the NGOs where the mental health patients died, Mahlangu and senior health department officials should not be let off the hook for their role in this tragedy.

Further charges should include contraventions of the Mental Health Act and the fraudulent licensing of the NGOs where the patients were sent.

The evidence should also lead to charges for the maltreatment of those patients who survived.

It is essential that there are no further delays in achieving justice for the relatives of those who died five years ago.

Local Government Elections are coming up in 2021! Visit check.da.org.za to check your voter registration status.

#MakhuraNotFitToGovern: ANC-led government’s vote of confidence in Premier Makhura shows their commitment to cadre deployment

It is no surprise that the ANC in the Gauteng Provincial Legislature today voted to keep Premier David Makhura in office. Today’s motion of no confidence brought by the DA comes after it became quite clear that Premier Makhura is not fit to govern.

The outcome of today’s vote does not change our view. Premier Makhura remains unfit to govern.

Under his watch:

  • Up to R125 million wasted on corrupt tenders for Personal Protect Equipment.
  • R431 million was spent on decontaminating schools between June and August last year.
  • AngloGold Ashanti hospital on the far West Rand received R500 million worth of funding in order to equip it with extra beds and facilities to assist Covid-19 patients. These wards are still incomplete and remain under construction.
  • Years after the horrible tragedy at Life Esidimeni, 81 claimants had still not been paid their compensation by November 2020.
  • Over 18 months since the Bank of Lisbon Fire, the Premier has still failed to release the investigation report.
  • There has been a continuous systemic collapse of municipalities like Emfuleni and Merafong.
  • An illegal dissolution of the Tshwane Municipal Council last year.

It is clear that the ANC-led government in Gauteng remains committed to cadre deployment and will do anything in their power to ensure that Premier Makhura remains in office, despite his government failing to exercise proper fiscal control and governance.

The DA will not waiver in its duty as the Official Opposition in the province to hold Premier Makhura and his executive to account.

81 Esidimeni claimants still not paid out

Only R6.5 million (5%) of the R120 million budget for compensation to Life Esidimeni victims and their families has been paid out so far this year, and 81 verified claimants have not been paid at all.

This was revealed last week on Thursday in a presentation by the Premier’s Office at a meeting of the Gauteng Legislature’s Oversight Committee on the Premier’s Office and Legislature (OCPOL).

According to the Premier’s Office, the underspending is due to lockdown restrictions which resulted in delays in the verification process of claimants.

There were 451 claims received, of which 352 were verified, but 81 of these claimants have still not been paid.

Gauteng Director-General Phindile Baleni says that the remainder of the R120 million budget will be spent in December and January when the trust is set up by the Master of the Court for the 50% of the payout that is earmarked for the patients. The other 50% is supposed to go to the families of the patients.

A complicating factor is that aggrieved family members are going to court next week to ensure that their own lawyers administer the trust as they mistrust the lawyers that the provincial government will appoint.

It’s a sad situation that there are still unresolved compensation issues in this tragic matter in which so many people suffered because of government neglect.


Esidimeni inquest delayed by Covid-19 pandemic

No progress has been made in appointing a Judge to preside over the joint inquest into the deaths of 144 mental health patients who were sent to unsuitable NGOs in the Life Esidimeni tragedy.

This is revealed by Community Safety MEC Faith Mazibuko in a written reply to my questions in the Gauteng Legislature.

According to the information provided by SAPS: “The Minister of Justice and Correctional Services has issued an order in terms of Section 6A(3) and (4) of Inquest Act 58 of 1959 that the Judge President of North Gauteng Division of the High Court appoint a Judge to preside at a joint Inquest to be conducted in the High Court in Pretoria relating to the deaths of mental patients transferred to various NGOs from Life Esidimeni.”

The delay is because “the matter is still in the hands of the Judge President to appoint a Judge” and “The timeline regarding when the matter will be in court cannot be determined at this stage due to Covid-19 pandemic.”

I am disappointed that there are further delays in ensuring justice for the Esidimeni victims and their families. Only three detectives are working on the case and no charges have yet been laid.

Four years have passed since the disastrous transfers of mental health patients led to cruelties and deaths.

It is not clear why a Judge has not yet been appointed to start the inquest process as some courts have been functioning throughout the lockdown.

More progress is needed to punish the perpetrators and bring justice to the victims and their families.

8 Esidimeni patients still missing

Eight patients who were transferred from Life Esidimeni in 2016 are still missing despite the efforts of the Gauteng Health Department to find them.

This was revealed yesterday by Gauteng Health MEC Bandile Masuku in an oral reply to my questions in the Gauteng Legislature.

Only one patient has been found since August last year and is currently at the Waverley Care Centre.

Masuku said that tracing information had been obtained from Home Affairs and SASSA, and home visits had also been done. Difficulties include a lack of information on patients as Life Esidimeni could only provide files on 4 of the 8 missing patients – dates of birth for some patients were missing, and contact numbers for family were incorrect.

I fear that the fate of the remaining 8 patients may never be known as it is now nearly four years since they were sent from Life Esidimeni to illegal NGOs which may have covered up some deaths.

There have been 144 confirmed deaths, but we may never know the true Esidimeni death toll if the fate of the missing patients remains a mystery.

Slow progress with Esidimeni inquest

The Democratic Alliance notes that Minister of Justice and Correctional Services, Ronald Lamola has acceded to the NPA’s request for a joint hearing into the Life Esidimeni deaths and requested the Judge President on 28 January 2020 to designate a judge to preside over the inquest in the high court of Pretoria.

This is nearly five months after the National Director of Public Prosecutions, Advocate Shamila Batohi submitted a request to Minister Lamola to approach the JP’s office to appoint a presiding officer to preside over the inquest.

I am concerned by the slow progress in getting justice for the 144 former Esidimeni patients who died in unsuitable NGOs, and for others who suffered as well.

It is now three years since Health Ombudsman Malegapuru Makgoba released his devastating report on the deaths, but not a single person has been criminally prosecuted.

Court action has seen three NGOs ordered to pay back about R1.3 million for Esidimeni patients they wrongly claimed for, and similar action is pending against eight other NGOs. But these are all civil actions, and justice for lives lost is more important than recovery of money which will probably be minimal as I suspect these NGOs will go bankrupt and be unable to pay.

It is disappointing that the Provincial Government refuses to use the Apportionment of Damages Act to ensure that former Gauteng Health MEC Qedani Mahlangu and her top officials pay from their own pockets towards the more than R300 million paid out to Esidimeni victims.

All the perpetrators need to appear in court as soon as possible to face a range of charges including murder, culpable homicide, fraud and contraventions of the Mental Health Act.