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By Cornelia Le Roux

Digital Deputy News Editor

SA’s mental healthcare shame: Life Esidimeni inquest wraps up

The Life Esidimeni inquest has drawn to a close after two years of blame-shifting and finger-pointing by government officials and NGOs.

The judicial inquest into the horrific deaths of 144 mental healthcare patients during the Life Esidimeni tragedy of 2016 concluded at the South Gauteng Division of the High Court on Thursday.

The inquest began on 19 July, 2021, with the crucial purpose of determining any criminal accountability for the deaths of the patients who were transferred from Life Esidimeni facilities to unlicensed NGOs during the 2015-2016 Gauteng Mental Health Marathon Project.

Life Esidimeni inquest: Budget cut claims dismissed

Health authorities described it as a “project” to de-institutionalise patients and save money by terminating its contract with Life Esidimeni.

Former Gauteng Health MEC Qedani Mahlangu’s claims of budget cuts were however, dismissed by former Gauteng Finance MEC Barbara Creecy.

Creecy testified at the inquest in May this year that the health department had, as a matter of fact, underspent its allocated budget during the financial years under examination.

According to her testimony, there were no reductions in the health budget, and the overall mental health budget remained consistent.

Unspeakable horrors of Life Esidimeni tragedy

Hope of more progress this year as Life Esidimeni inquest resumes today
The families of some of the Life Esidimeni victims pose with the photos of their loved ones who died. Photo: lifeesidimeni.org.za

The unspeakable horror of death by starvation, neglect, and dehydration shocked the nation and made international headlines for its litany of human rights violations.

Over a period of eight months between 2015 and 2016, an estimated 1,700 mentally ill and vulnerable patients were moved from the Life Esidimeni cluster of privately run mental healthcare facilities in the Gauteng province to unlicensed care homes.

Many of these, it has since turned out, were merely suburban residences which were hastily repurposed.

ALSO READ: Life Esidimeni: Patients’ transfer ‘not a rushed job’ – Qedani Mahlangu

Life Esidimeni inquest: The arguments in a nutshell

Civil rights group Section 27 has argued for former head of Gauteng Mental Health Services Dr Mmakgabo Manamela, former Gauteng Health MEC Qedani Mahlangu, and Ethel Ncube, the owner of Precious Angels, the NGO where 20 mental health patients died, to be charged with culpable homicide.

AfriForum wants the court to recommend murder charges.

The legal representative of three of the NGOs, Advocate Ebenezer Prophy, suggested in his final argument this week that the role of the facilities should be taken into consideration.

“If you look at the periodic reports, for many users those were extremely outdated, so the NGOs couldn’t rely on how the user was cared for or where his health stands in the last year, and that is where the submission is based.

“That it interrupted continuous care because no matter the avenues the NGO tried, there was no way on this records to determine the care treatment and rehabilitative services for the users,” Prophy told the court.

Hearing of evidence concluded

Judge Mmonoa Teffo presided over the Life Esidimeni inquest which has been marred by procedural delays.  

“I want to thank every one of you who has made their submissions to this inquest court. I believe and trust they will assist this court to make proper findings,” Judge Teffo said on Thursday.

“The proceedings for today and the hearing of evidence for this matter have now been concluded. What is left is for the court to make its findings and recommendations.”

  • A date has not been specified for when the findings and recommendations of the Life Esidimeni inquest will be revealed.

NOW READ: Life Esidimeni: R400m paid to victims, with more compensation expected

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