South Africa

Newsflash: Life Esidimeni families awarded R1.2-million compensation each

By Greg Nicolson 19 March 2018

Retired Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke said on Monday that government must pay relatives of psychiatric patients who died or were moved from Life Esidimeni in 2016 R1.2-million each in compensation. He slammed the officials behind the 144 deaths for their callous violation of the Constitution. By GREG NICOLSON.

Cheers rang out at the Emoyeni Conference Centre in Johannesburg when Moseneke finally finished reading his summary judgment of the Life Esidimeni Arbitration.

Moseneke said all the claimants, including around 70 families of patients who died after being moved from Life Esidimeni were awarded a total lump sum of R1.2-million each. Another 70 families of relatives who survived would receive the same amount, minus the R20,000 funeral costs.

The lump sum includes R200,000 previously agreed to for emotional shock, psychological injuries and funeral expenses. He found in favour of the claimants’ call for constitutional damages and awarded them an additional R1-million “for the government’s unjustifiable and reckless breaches” of the Constitution. The award must be paid within three months.

Moseneke also ordered the government to provide counselling services to the families, erect a monument symbolising the vulnerability of mental health care patients and outline a turnaround plan for the provision of mental health care services in Gauteng.

The Gauteng department of health denied psychiatric patients their right to dignity, both while alive and in death, said Moseneke. He said their loved ones were also denied their right to dignity as they fought the project, were denied truthful information, and found patients in appalling conditions.

Moseneke slammed the health department leaders behind the Gauteng Mental Health Marathon Project who decided to terminate the Life Esidimeni contract. Former MEC Qedani Mahlangu, former department head Barney Selebano and former mental health director Makgabo Manamela all claimed they had no reason to believe patients would die or suffer torture.

Moseneke said that was “so improbable that it must be false and I find that it is false”. They offered three reasons to move the patients: the policy of deinstitutionalisation, a claim the Auditor General had questioned Life Esidimeni’s contract, and budgetary constraints. He said the explanations were “neither cogent nor rational”.

All the facts here point to cruelty, antithesis of empathy and caring,” said Moseneke. He noted their apologies. “Yet despite there obvious position of authority and power each refused to take full responsibility,” he said.

The irrational and unconstitutional decision was the reason for the death that ensued,” said the former deputy chief justice, finding the officials violated both the patients’ and their families’ constitutional rights.

Mahlangu, Selebano and Manamela falsely claimed ignorance or the actual numbers of deaths at NGOs in 2016, said Moseneke. Referring to the former MEC who misled the provincial legislature, he said she was more concerned about playing politics than truth and the patients who were dying at the time. He denied a request to order the police to act, saying SAPS must fulfill its mandate on its own.

This is a harrowing account of the death torture and utterly vulnerable mental health care users in the care of an admittedly delinquent government,” Moseneke began his judgment, which lasted almost three hours. He outlined the key issues in the arbitration before listing the names of the patients who died who are represented at the arbitration.

Some relatives became emotional as Moseneke described in harrowing detail the brutal manner in which patients were moved and the disgusting facilities they were sent to. He said the deaths “stem from the arrogant and irrational use of public power”.

In February the government agreed to pay R200,000 to families of the victims for emotional shock, psychological injuries and funeral expenses. The provincial government argued against their request for an additional R1.5-million in constitutional damages for violations to their right to dignity, family life, equality and for cruel and inhuman treatment.

The families said R500,000 of that amount should go back into the health system to improve services. Moseneke denied that request.

The arbitration was established to provide healing and determine compensation for the families of the 144 patients who died after being moved from Life Esidimeni in Gauteng in 2016. The 70 families who are being compensated R1.2millio are the ones that have come forward so far. Recommended by Health Ombudsman Professor Malegapuru Makgoba, it began in October and heard closing arguments in February and 60 witnesses took the stand.

The Gauteng health department rapidly transferred around 1,500 patients out of Life Esidimeni in 2016 to NGOs and community care. Witnesses detailed how they were sent to under-resourced and ill-equipped NGOs where many of the patients died in degrading facilities lacking basic care.

Gauteng Health MEC Gwen Ramokgopa said last week that 44 patients are still missing. The provincial government recently said it had spent R15.7-million on the alternative dispute resolution committee. The DA’s Jack Bloom said the total cost of the arbitration could amount to R47-million. DM

Photo: A photographic collage was presented at the hearings by Section27 in memory of the mentally ill patients who died in the Esidimeni Life tragedy. The number of patients who died now stands at 141. Photo: Section27.

Gallery
0