Life Esidimeni’s bereaved families call for progress on a living monument for the victims

Family members of the Life Esidimeni victims at the Emoyeni Conference Centre, where the Life Esidimeni arbitration took place in January 2018 in Johannesburg. (Photo: Gallo Images / Daily Sun / Lucky Morajane)

In an open letter, families of the Life Esidimeni victims say they are concerned that the government has not made progress on the ‘living monument’ meant to be constructed in tribute to the lives lost in the tragedy five years ago.

First published in the Daily Maverick 168 weekly newspaper.

Dear Gauteng Department of Health and the Government of the Republic of South Africa,

It has been five years since mental health patients were moved from Life Esidimeni to non-governmental organisations (NGOs) that were unlicensed and vastly unprepared to deal with their needs.

One hundred and forty-four of the patients – our loved ones – who were moved in the Gauteng Mental Health Marathon project passed away in tragic and inhuman conditions.

It has been three years since the end of the alternative dispute resolution process, chaired by former deputy chief justice Dikgang Moseneke.

He instructed the government to erect a monument in a prominent and appropriate location to memorialise the loss and suffering caused during the Life Esidimeni tragedy, within 12 months of the order.

This monument, according to Moseneke, would be to honour the human dignity and vulnerability of mental health patients and would serve as a reminder to future generations so that such a tragedy would never happen again.

Five years after the move from Life Esidimeni, and more than three years since the order, the government has done nothing to memorialise the lives lost and the suffering caused by the tragedy.

The government has not communicated any plans or progress made to erect a suitable monument.

We believe that this monument is long overdue. We, the bereaved families of the Life Esidimeni tragedy, formally petition the Gauteng government to construct a “living monument” to pay tribute to the lives lost in the tragedy.

This living monument must comprise a specialised mental health facility in Gauteng, staffed by the best qualified professionals, as well as five new mental health-focused clinics or facilities attached to existing clinics in all five regions, as agreed with the families, as part of the instruction by Moseneke in his award following the arbitration.

While the upcoming joint inquest into the deaths that occurred at Life Esidimeni is one step towards achieving accountability for the tragedy, we need a memorial to challenge stigma around mental health issues and to make sure this never happens again.

The issue of early detection also needs to be addressed, hence the importance of the facilities in all five regions.

We, the bereaved families, are formally raising our concerns regarding the way this matter has been handled.

We therefore demand the following and feedback by 2 August 2021:

a report on what steps have been taken to erect a living monument to the Life Esidimeni tragedy; and a clear plan, including timeframes and responsible persons, for the way forward on the establishment of this monument.

Allies in the public can support the bereaved families’ call by signing a petition on Amandla.Mobi. DM168

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper which is available for free to Pick n Pay Smart Shoppers at these Pick n Pay stores until 24 July 2021. From 31 July 2021, DM168 will be available for R25 at Pick n Pay, Exclusive Books and airport bookstores.


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