DA Gauteng spokesperson for health Jack Bloom says the biggest tragedy in the case of the 62 mentally ill patients missing following a doomed project to transfer them from Life Esidimeni facilities to various NGOs is that they may be dead.
"We need to look at the police mortuaries. Are there any unidentified bodies? Can we match the details that we have with the unidentified bodies? But we at least must do what we can, because the true tragedy is that the Esidimeni deaths may well be over 200," he said.
The latest death toll stands at 144.
Bloom was speaking at the Johannesburg Central Police Station in the inner city on Monday, where he was due to file missing persons cases for the 62 patients who are still missing after the deadly move.
He was told by police captain Riaan Prinsloo that he could not file one missing persons report for all 62 patients, but had to file each one separately.
Bloom said he would be back later in the afternoon to hand over the remaining 61 reports as he had only completed one missing persons report.
The lengthy form required in-depth information, and he was missing pertinent details such as identity numbers, contact details of family members and the last facility the patients were institutionalised in.
Bloom said the next step was to identify some of the missing patients, and hopefully get their pictures. He said that some patients were traceable.
"We should start off with those who are getting a Sassa (South African Social Security Agency) grant, there are some 35 with ID numbers, and it appears that a grant is still being collected for them, surely that's where we start... If there is fraud involved, if somebody is collecting, well, then there is a crime committed," Bloom said.
He said he would personally track the cases with the police and the legislature.
Bloom explained that there was very little detail on those who are still missing, adding that this information would have to be sourced from the health department.
In 2015, following the termination of a contract between the Gauteng health department and Life Esidimeni, more than 1 000 mentally ill patients were moved from the Life Esidimeni healthcare facility to various unlicensed and ill-equipped NGOs across the province.
Some of the patients were moved without the permission of family members.
A total of 144 people have been confirmed dead so far, with 43 men and 19 women still missing.
True justice in court
Some family members who have still not been able to locate their loved ones since the move testified at the Life Esidimeni arbitration hearings about their struggle to find their loved ones.
It was initially reported that there were 59 missing patients, but the number has now increased to 62.
Bloom expressed shock that 18 months after the vulnerable patients went missing, nothing had been done by the department to find them. He added that this represented a failure on the department's part.
The police captain [explained] that you would usually report a missing person within 24 hours, and the fact that this hasn't officially been opened as a missing persons case is a severe deficiency on government's [part], he said.
Bloom said the nightmare of the tragedy would not be over until the missing patients were accounted for.
He said that he was happy with the arbitration proceedings, commending retired deputy justice Dikgang Moseneke for a magnificent job. He added, however, that true justice would be found in the courts.
"The real investigation is the police investigation into the deaths, and I am very concerned that it's slow because these people need to appear in court. The former health MEC (Qedani Mahlangu) needs to be charged criminally. The officials need to be charged criminally...but I do have trust and confidence in justice Moseneke," said Bloom.