19 March 2018

South Africa: Life Esidimeni Compensation Too Late for One Mother

Photo: Gauteng Health Department
Former Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke

For Allina Mngomezulu, 72, the more than R1m that families of the victims of the Life Esidimeni tragedy are set to receive as compensation is too late.

"She died a heartbroken mother due to the Life Esidimeni tragedy," her sister, Lydia Dikgale, told News24 on Monday.

Mngomezulu's daughter, Thembisile Nkosi, 18, died at an unlicensed NGO to which she was moved as part of a marathon project by the Gauteng department of health.

Dikgale, 57, from Diepkloof, was present when retired deputy chief justice Dikgang Moseneke announced that each family - whose loved one was among 144 people who died when patients were moved between facilities by the department - should be compensated with more than R1m.

"I am happy that her two children will get compensation and they have a better chance in life," said Dikgale about her sister. The mother of two died three weeks ago while waiting for the outcomes of the Life Esidimeni arbitration alternative dispute resolution hearings.

Dikgale said she used to travel to attend the arbitration hearings using her savings to help her sister find closure after Thembisile's death at an unlicensed NGO.

One of the lucky few

"My niece was moved from Life Esidimeni and taken to Cullinan Care and Rehabilitation Centre and she died there.

"They said people were being ill-treated. They were not feeding them. They were not bathing, and they were left walking around naked at the NGO."

Releasing his report on Monday, Moseneke ordered the government to pay an agreed amount of R20 000 to each of the claimants in respect of funeral expenses, R180 000 to each of the claimants in respect of the shock and psychological trauma and R1m to each of the claimants for the government's breach of the Constitution.

The payments are to be made in no later than three months or June 19, 2018, said Moseneke.

Quanita Mlotshwa considers her family one of the lucky few.

Her sister was transferred to a facility where they took good care of her.

Vindication

"I am very happy because we stuck together as families. We did not allow anything to come between us. I am also grateful that, in the end, the government humbled itself and came to us," said Mlotshwa.

Mlotshwa said she was also happy that the survivors would continue being cared for by the government.

Recounting her ordeal, she said her sister, Aeysha Boswell, who is currently being cared for at Life Esidimeni Waverly, was in Kliptown for 20 years, before being moved.

"She has been at Waverly and she has always been well treated."

She said her sister was moved but she survived.

"Luckily she was taken to a place where they took good care of her."

Andrew Peterson, who sat on the family committee, said he was exhilarated.

"We feel vindicated and that this has been an equitable redress and we are very excited."

Peterson said the families of those who died in the Life Esidimeni tragedy told government to stop the project but their cries fell on deaf ears.

Watershed moment

"It sends a message to all communities not to stigmatise mental health problems. Those family members matter and this is sending a powerful signal. I hope it will change the way we see mental healthcare users."

Peterson said criminal action should be taken against those responsible for the deaths.

"People must be held accountable and must be charged with premeditated murder because they knew what they were doing and they still went ahead and did it. They knew people were going to die," said Peterson.

The executive director of Section 27 Mark Heywood said he was glad the process was over and he was sure the families shared his sentiments.

"It is a profoundly important judgment... The order of damages on a scale of R1m per person who died or who was a victim of the move is almost a first in South Africa."

Heywood said it was undoubtedly a watershed moment in the history of South African human rights and the country's Constitution.

'We cannot bring back lives'

Health Ombudsman Malegapuru Makgoba said Moseneke's orders were fair.

"To use his (Moseneke's) words, this was supposed to be an equitable redress in order to contribute to the journey of healing, but not everybody is going to heal at the same time.

"Some people will find that this will give them closure, but for some, it is the beginning of their journey because you know, we cannot bring back lives."

Makgoba said the aim was to create a system or award that shows that the country respects the Constitution and the dignity of people. More importantly, he said, to show that the country respects the vulnerable in society.

"If you look at the litany of human rights abuses in this project, they defy description. Every section in the Bill of Rights of the Mental Care Act and National Care Act were all violated."

Makgoba said these were public officials who are senior and should have known better.

'Relentless impunity'

"They had the power to change the course of what ultimately happened, but they did not."

While investigating and compiling his report into the deaths of mental healthcare users, Makgoba said he was in disbelief at what he had found.

"I have practised as a doctor for many years and I have never seen people being so abused.

"In all the three people that identified in my report, they seemed to have done this relentlessly with impunity and they did not seem to see the magnitude of what they were doing."

Makgoba said former Gauteng health MEC Qedani Mahlangu was more concerned about politics than the lives of people and the truth.

He slammed the government, particularly Mahlangu, former head of department Barney Selebano and department of health director Makgabo Manamela for the manner in which they handled the marathon project.

Source: News24

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