The inquest into the deaths of at least 144 mentally ill patients after they were transferred by Gauteng’s health department to ill-equipped NGOs in 2016 started Monday in the Supreme Court in Pretoria.
FILE: Relatives who have lost loved ones in the tragedy of Life Esidimeni attend a memorial service hosted by the DA. Photo: Kayleen Morgan/Eyewitness News.
JOHANNESBURG – Lawyers representing the families of the victims of the tragedy of Life Esidimeni have called for a thorough and fair investigation that satisfies the public.
The inquest into the deaths of at least 144 mentally ill patients after they were transferred to ill-equipped NGOs by the Gauteng Department of Health in 2016 was launched Monday in the Supreme Court in Pretoria.
Judge Mmonoa Teffo, who is the presiding officer, is tasked with determining whether anyone should be held criminally liable.
It’s been five years since at least 144 mentally ill patients died in the department’s so-called marathon project, and their families have yet to see some form of justice for those responsible.
Section 27 represents 44 families directly affected.
Adila Hassim, the lobby group’s lawyer, said the investigation was not a trial, but a fact-finding mission to hold those involved criminally liable.
“All that this court needs at this stage to determine is whether there is prima facie evidence under which a reasonable person could convict a person of an offense arising out of some or all of the debts of the said deceased.”
At the heart of this investigation are three former heads of provincial health departments, former MEC Qedani Mahlangu, department head Dr. Barney Selebano and head of mental health Dr. Makgabo Manamela.
The trio faces charges of wrongful death, assault with intent to cause grievous bodily harm and violation of the Mental Health Act.
SADAG: WE WARNED THE DEPARTMENT
The South African Depression and Anxiety Group (Sadag) has informed the Supreme Court in Pretoria that it has warned the Gauteng Department of Health about the transfer of mentally ill patients to NGOs, but their concerns were ignored.
Sadag’s Cassandra Chambers was the first witness in the Life Esidimeni Inquest Inquiry.
She said that despite a number of warnings from the group, the department continued with the disastrous transfer of mentally ill patients.
“We’ve also had these family members report these issues directly to the Gauteng Department of Health in a variety of ways, from calling the helpline to admitting letters.”
Chambers said the project had no direction from the start.
“These were patients who were doing well in an institution and were moved to NGOs that couldn’t care for them and they starved.”
She told the court that in some cases adult patients were transferred to NGOs specializing in the care of children, putting their health and well-being at risk.
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