News / Opinion

Rhoda Kadalie
3 minute read
10 Feb 2017
5:31 am

Death of 94 psych patients only shows how little our govt cares

Rhoda Kadalie

The state does not care for the weak, and nowhere do we see big national campaigns against child abuse and sexual violence (except for the 16 days of activism, etc.)

FILE PICTURE: Rhoda Kadalie, anti-apartheid activist.

The success of a country’s democracy is measured by how well its most vulnerable citizens are treated.

Hence the shocking deaths of 94 mentally ill patients from the Life Esidimeni hospital in Gauteng, who were wrongfully moved to non-government organisations (NGOs) that were ill-equipped to care and look after them, is even more horrifying.

Not only is the resignation of health MEC, Qedani Mahlangu, justified, but the health authorities should be held criminally liable for such gross neglect.

A couple of years ago, 63 babies died from Klebsiella (contracted due to unhygienic conditions) in a hospital in Pietermaritzburg.

There was a huge outcry then, and I have no idea how the mothers were compensated for their loss.

This tragic event was followed by a similar outbreak in another hospital. After the Marikana massacre, one would think the state would avoid such atrocities.

I mean, did these mentally ill patients die because government wanted to save a couple of rands in a country that squanders billions, as surmised in the Sunday Times editorial (February 5): “Perhaps it should not be too surprising that the burden of saving – this from a government that routinely bleeds millions on dud projects and theft – should fall on the most vulnerable people in society, who lack the means to complain.

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“Could the planned saving of R208 per patient to be gained from closing the Life Esidimeni care centre and moving 2 000 patients to 27 inept NGOs really have assisted the country’s finances in any meaningful way?”

This piece simply outlines how our priorities are wrong.

The state does not care for the weak, and nowhere do we see big national campaigns against substance abuse, child abuse and sexual violence (except for the 16 days of activism, etc.), or support for the mentally ill or the disabled, among others.

These difficult social issues are left to NGOs, who are often poorly supported, monitored and empowered.

If institutionalised mentally ill inmates are treated so badly, what about the thousands of invisible citizens languishing in poor communities, who do not have the resources to fend for themselves? If only our political leaders cared.

I once visited a small town in Germany, where the town hall was used by the councillors to attract the mentally ill to become involved in all kinds of creative activities.

There were people with all sorts of mental disorders and intellectual disabilities, who were firmly integrated into the community.

They were given care and attention by the town officials, who allowed the town hall to be used by organisations eager to work in partnership with the local authorities to care for these people.

In our own neck of the woods is a fabulous social enterprise, Oasis Association, that employs more than 350 people with intellectual disabilities to recycle waste.

These members of society, who would usually be written off as “useless” have shown, through their service at Oasis, that they can be gainfully employed, generate a profit and provide a sustainable service to the public.

This is a model of excellence government should learn from.

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