LIFE ESIDIMENI INQUEST TO RESUME TODAY
17 January 2022, Johannesburg – The Inquest into the Life Esidimeni tragedy will be resuming today, Monday 17 January 2022, in a virtual sitting of the High Court of South Africa (Gauteng Division) before Judge Mmonoa Teffo. SECTION27 continues to represent 44 of the bereaved families in this important process to determine criminal liability for the deaths of 144 vulnerable mental healthcare users (MHCUs) following the decision of the Gauteng Department of Health (GDOH) to move them from Life Esidimeni health facilities into unlicensed and unprepared NGOs in 2016.
Following several procedural delays and adjournments to the Inquest in 2021, SECTION27 hopes that progress with the Inquest will be uninterrupted this year. The Inquest serves as an important judicial inquiry into the legal causes of death for each of the 144 mental healthcare users, and whether these tragic deaths were brought about by any criminal offence or negligence on the part of GDOH officials or NGO owners who received patients. SECTION27 hopes that evidence from the Inquest will then be taken forward by the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) to inform future criminal proceedings against those involved in this tragedy.
The Inquest is now set to hear from its sixth witness, Hanna Jacobus, who was the deputy director within the Mental Health Directorate at the GDOH responsible for overseeing NGOs to which patients would be moved. Evidence from the Alternative Dispute Resolution overseen by former Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke in 2017 found that patients were transferred to NGOs who had been issued “unlawful and knowingly fraudulent” licenses. It was found further that many NGOs were entirely unprepared for the patients they received, some without adequate food, water, medication, staff or blankets.
While many of the officials from the GDOH and NGOs have now claimed that they could not have predicted or prevented the deaths of the Life Esidimeni tragedy, SECTION27 will again this year seek to show the court how the risks of the poorly planned transfer of MHCUs were repeatedly flagged but ultimately ignored.
We hope that the Inquest will resume smoothly and that its progress this year will be unhindered by administrative and procedural bottlenecks. We remain committed to getting accountability – at all levels, from the individual NGOs all the way up to the high ranking GDOH officials – for the deaths of the 144 MHCUs.
Proceedings are expected to resume for the duration of this week. The hearings will be streamed live from 10am today, on the South African Judiciary’s YouTube Channel, and the direct link is available here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S8JUUuW6SM0.
For media queries, contact:
- Julia Chaskalson (Research and Advocacy officer, SECTION27)