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Gauteng Health MEC to use Human Rights Day to reflect on Esidimeni tragedy

Ramokgopa says her department will have to live with the fact that it will forever have the Life Esidimeni tragedy hanging over its shoulders.

Gauteng Health MEC Gwen Ramokgopa. Picture: Kgothatso Mogale/EWN

JOHANNESBURG – South Africa is marking its 23rd Human Rights Day on Tuesday and Gauteng Health MEC Gwen Ramokgopa says her department is approaching the day with a heavy heart after the Life Esidimeni tragedy.

Among the findings in the Health Ombudsman’s investigation into the deaths of more than 100 mental health patients was that numerous human rights violations took place.

The problems started from the time the Gauteng Health Department took the decision to take the patients from Life Esidimeni and move them to various NGOs.

Ramokgopa says her department will have to live with the fact that it will forever have the Life Esidimeni tragedy hanging over its shoulders and will approach the day recognising its mistakes.

“We approach National Human Rights Day 2017 appreciating that we need to learn from the experiences of the patients who were moved from Life Esidimeni and that led to the human rights violation.”

She says government is committed to ensuring that such a tragedy is not repeated.

“The lessons have also caused us to develop risk management for patients’ abuse.”

When he released his report in January this year, Health Ombudsman Professor Malegapuru Makgoba said most of the mentally ill patients died because they were starved or not kept warm.

HEALTH MINISTER STEPS IN

Last week, Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi appointed an independent tribunal to deal with appeals relating to the Health Ombudsman’s report into the deaths of mentally ill patients transferred from Life Esidimeni facilities in Gauteng.

The Gauteng Health Department’s HOD Dr Barney Selebano has decided to appeal the findings against him.

Selebano is currently on suspension after he, former provincial Health MEC Qedani Mahlangu and other officials were found to have acted recklessly and negligently in their decision to move the patients.

Health ministry spokesperson Joe Maila said: “Mr Motsoaledi has appointed a tribunal to deal with the appeals that come out of the Life Esidimeni report by the Health Ombudsman.”

The Health Minister has appointed retired High Court Judge President Bernard Ngoepe as chairperson of the independent tribunal.

Maila said UCT psychiatry professor Brian Robertson will also form part of the tribunal.

“The law says in the event that there are people who are aggrieved and want to appeal, the minister must then appoint a tribunal. In this instance, the three-person tribunal was appointed and will be headed by [retired] Judge President Bernard Ngoepe.”

(Edited by Leeto M Khoza)

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