Section 27: Esidimeni death toll should be higher

A lawyer representing the families of 55 of the psychiatric patients who died in the Esidimeni tragedy, says the number should actually be 129 and not 118.

Alternative Dispute Resolution process between the State and families of victims of the Life Esidimeni patients in Parktown on 9 October 2017. Picture: Masego Rahlaga/EWN

JOHANNESBURG – While the Health Ombudsman says that a total of 118 psychiatric patients died in the Esidimeni tragedy, a lawyer representing the families of 55 of these patients says the number should actually be 129.

At least 1,700 patients were moved from Life Esidimeni after the Health Department terminated its contract with the Life Esidimeni group.

A dispute resolution process began on Monday with the Health Ombudsman being the state’s first witness.

Section 27's Adila Hassin represents 55 families.

She says she looked at Professor Malegapuru Makgioba’s list of those who died and realised that the names of 11 of her clients’ loved ones don't appear on this list.

“The 55 deceased that are represented here, 11 names are not included in the list of 118.”

Makgoba responded by saying he only counted the patients who died between October 2016 and February this year which was during his investigation.

The Health Ombudsman’s cross-examination continues on Tuesday morning, with lawyers representing other families expected to ask their questions.

MAHLANGU SHOULD TESTIFY

At the same time, Makgoba said he strongly believes that former Gauteng Health MEC Qedani Mahlangu should be subpoenaed to testify in the Esidimeni arbitration process.

He said Mahlangu has to be called to testify so that the families can receive closure.

“She was the political head, and she was the person who actually ran and took the decisions that led to the implementation of this project.

When he released his report into Esidimeni last year, Makgoba said “94 silent deaths and still counting”.

On Monday, he confirmed that 118 patients died.

He has explained the circumstances in which 10 of these patients died.

“The rehabilitation centre took out a certain number of their patients to make space for the Life Esidimeni patients and those patients were placed, as I say in an NGO that was not licensed.”

Retired Deputy Chief Justice Moseneke then asked Makgoba whether he was concluding that these 10 patients died because of the moves.

He asked: “But for them being moved to make way for those who came from Life Esidimeni, they may very well on the probabilities have survived?"

“They had been living there for some time, there was no evidence that they were on their way out,” responded Makgoba.

Mosekene further asked: “Until they were moved?”

The Health Ombud gave a definite: “Yes”

(Edited by Leeto M Khoza)