SECTION27 and the Life Esidimeni Family Committee welcome the announcement that the National Prosecuting Authority will institute a formal and joint inquest into the deaths of 144 mental health care users who were transferred from the Life Esidimeni facility to unlicensed Non-governmental organisations.

Families represented by SECTION27 requested as early as August 2016 for the institution of inquests into the deaths of the mental health care users. We are disappointed that the NPA has found that, at this stage, the evidence on hand is not sufficient to sustain criminal charges, but we have been encouraged by the dedication of prosecutors seeking justice in this case. We expect that the inquest will provide enough evidence to allow the NPA to prosecute those who were responsible for the tragedy, and that this will result in convictions, but also that this legal process will start to evoke better treatment of the Mental Healthcare Users in public facilities and non-governmental organisations because families of mental healthcare uses will be encouraged by the process to hold the caregivers accountable.

SECTION27 represented 63 families of mental health care users who died because they were moved to facilities that were incapable of giving them appropriate care.  We heard moving testimony from family members who had searched fruitlessly for months to find their loved ones. We heard that the most vulnerable members of our society suffered at the hands for people who were unqualified to take care of them. We also heard that Gauteng government officials falsified licensing certificates for the NGOs to which mental health care users were transferred and ordinary audit processes were not followed.

The arbitration award by Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke notes, “It is now undisputed that as result of the move, 144 mental health care users died and 1408 were exposed to trauma and morbidity, amongst others, but survived.” Whilst the affected families and surviving mental health care users have been compensated for the violation of their constitutional rights, they are yet to be fully vindicated, as those responsible have not been held to account professionally or criminally.

The former MEC for Health, Qedani Mahlangu, and her team at the Gauteng Department of Health were warned multiple times about the risk of moving mental health care users in the circumstances. They ignored those warnings and must face the full consequences of the law.

This is an important next step following the Life Esidimeni Arbitration. Families have always said they would like to see prosecution where there was criminal conduct. The inquest will provide an opportunity for all to obtain information proving that the decisions of leaders and actions of others were the legal and criminal cause the deaths of mental health care users.

Ends

For more information:

Christine Nxumalo 079 137 4560

Ntsiki Mpulo 082 782 7143