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34 missing Esidimeni patients found, 28 still missing

The patients went missing after being transferred to illegal NGOs about two years ago where 144 patients died in the process.

Patients at the Takalani Home for the mentally disabled in Soweto. It was one of the institutions affected during the Life Esidimeni tragedy. Picture: Ihsaan Haffejee/EWN

JOHANNESBURG – Police have confirmed that 34 missing Life Esidimeni patients have now been found with 28 still missing.

The patients went missing after being transferred to illegal NGOs about two years ago where 144 patients died in the process.

The Democratic Alliance's Gauteng MEC on Health Jack Bloom says it is distressing that there are still patients who are not accounted for which highlights that the tragedy is still not over.

Bloom says releasing information will help speed up the process to find other missing patients.

“We can’t have a situation where 28 patients still unaccounted for but there are three missing patients that don’t even have their full names. So, I really think that to bring this tragedy to a close, we need to exert every effort to find the remaining 28 patients.”

This week, it emerged that former staff at one of the NGOs that housed psychiatric patients from Life Esidimeni destroyed patient files which could set back police investigations.

A new board started at the Takalani Home for the mentally handicapped in Soweto last December and said it arrived to little or no paperwork and had to begin patient assessments from scratch.

The NGO, which is located in Diepkloof, is where many of the first victims of the so-called Esidimeni tragedy died.

The Esidimeni arbitration hearings revealed that patients at the Takalani Home died mainly because of neglect, a lack of food and a typhoid outbreak.

During a DA walkabout of the premises, the media was briefed by the new board and new staff members at Takalani.

The NGO’s director Judgement Gumede said many were fired for wrongdoing last year while some resigned.

Gumede said two previous board members were charged with 99 counts of mismanagement and other offences.

“Both of them were charged with fraud and theft of institutional funds and it’s 99 charges for both of them.”

He also said when they arrived in December, they found no files.

“We had to start the organisation afresh. In terms of administration, there were no proper records. We only found staff records and critical information for the running of the institution was deleted on the computers.”

There are also allegations of theft amounting to millions of rands against former employees of the home.

At the same time, the DA said the home is running out of food because of late subsidy payments from the Gauteng Health Department.

Bloom said despite new management, the Takalani hasn't received the necessary subsidy of R4,800 per patient for the past two months.

“I was pleased on my visit to find out that it’s completely under new management and I think they’re doing a good job. The problem is the fact that the department hasn’t paid them their subsidies for nearly two months. Some of the staff haven’t been paid and they’re going to run out of food by this weekend.”

(Edited by Leeto M Khoza)