South Africa: The Long and Painful Road to the Start of the Life Esidimeni Inquest


Although individual families of the mental healthcare users who died after they were discharged from Life Esidimeni in 2016 have been compensated for the violation of their constitutional rights, the actors responsible for the deaths, suffering and torture of the mental healthcare patients have yet to be held criminally accountable. But that could change after a formal judicial inquest into the deaths starts at the Pretoria High Court on 19 July 2021.

This article was first published in Spotlight.

144 deaths: How we got here

As a result of the unlawful and uncaring actions of the Gauteng Department of Health, 144 mental healthcare users died in conditions which the Former Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke described as "cruel, inhuman and degrading". Many vulnerable mental healthcare users suffered starvation, dehydration, neglect, torture, and severe violations of their human rights.


In 2015, then Gauteng MEC for Health, Qedani Mahlangu, ended a longstanding contract between the Gauteng Department of Health and Life Esidimeni and announced plans to move patients to other psychiatric hospitals and NGOs. This was done, according to the department, to implement and fulfil plans in the 2013 National Policy on Mental Health to "deinstitutionalise mental healthcare". The policy envisaged...

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