Over 100 Life Esidimeni victims still waiting to be compensated

In March 2018, retired Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke made a ruling at the arbitration hearing that each claimant receive around R1 million for the trauma and damages caused.

FILE: Former Gauteng Health MEC Qedani Mahlangu testifies at the Life Esidimeni hearing on 22 January 2018 in Parktown. Picture: AFP

JOHANNESBURG - Some of the victims of the Life Esidimeni tragedy will need to wait even longer for the rest of their compensation.

The Gauteng government is preparing to head to court to ask for a curator to be put in charge of administering the claim payout process.

Almost 1,600 psychiatric patients were caught up in the scandal when they were moved from Life Esidimeni homes to ill-equipped and underfunded NGO's in Gauteng in 2015.

At least 144 died - many in the most wretched of circumstances.

[Podcast series] Lying in state: The Life Esidimeni tragedy

The Gauteng government on Monday said the only payments still outstanding were for some survivors who were not part of the initial arbitration process.

Spokesperson Thabo Masebe said: “We want that money to be paid but we have to comply with the law. This is why we have to get a curator appointed, to approach the High Court and get the money.”

Masebe said they were hoping to get a curator appointed before releasing the money owed to those who were not part of the arbitration process.

“We are working on it as a matter of urgently. So, it should be at court anytime and once it’s done, we will be able to get the curator so that we can release the money,” he said.

In March 2018, retired Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke made a ruling at the arbitration hearing that each claimant receive around R1 million for the trauma and damages caused.

Edmund Omarge was assaulted when he was 19 years’ old - the attack left him brain damaged.

Unable to look after his special needs, his family had to send him to Life Esidimeni – leaving his single mother, Maria Omarge, to provide for her unemployed children and grandchildren with her meagre pension money.

They are still waiting for the second half of their payout.

Life is tough for them and Omarge said often she didn’t even have transport money to visit her son at a care centre in Johannesburg.

“Sometimes I ask my cousins to take me to see him.”

Others have received their full payout - one of them is Victor Cloete – a schizophrenia patient who survived the traumatic experience.

His nephew, Andrew Pieterson, said Cloete’s life had improved significantly since the payout.

“His dream was to be in a plane and see the sea – so we did that for him - he was institutionalised when he was just 17.”

Pieterson said the number of visits by family members – most of whom are unemployed – had also increased drastically since the payout.

More than 100 other late claimants, like Omarge, can only hope that they too will finally receive all that is due to them.

TRAUMA FROM ALMOST LOSING A CHILD

Deidre Nieman slipped into a coma for two days after she was transferred from Life Esidimeni because the staff failed to hand over her medical records to her new care centre. And the staff there had no idea they had to give her medication for her epilepsy.

Her father Hennie was overcome by emotion as he recalled their traumatic experience of almost losing their child after she survived the transfer.

He was one of many still waiting for the other half of the payment due to his family.

Hennie said he dreaded thinking that if he did not find her in time, she might not have been here today.

“She was lucky that there was the right person in the right place that saved her life. Others were transferred with no medication [and] no proper attendance, and they died as a consequence,” he said.

For others like Johannah Silinda there was still a long road ahead to fight for the compensation she believes she is entitled to.

Her brother Moses Mabona survived the Life Esidimeni tragedy, however, the department was refusing to accept her claim as he did not appear on the official list of affected patients.

Silinda said when her brother - who calls himself a different name Joseph Mabena - arrived at Life Esidimeni in Germiston in 2013, the staff never corrected his information despite several attempts by the family.

Andrew Pietersen’s uncle survived the tragedy. He was still struggling to process the lack of accountability nearly five years on.

“We’ve received information that a number of those people are still in the department. It is just lies as usual when there are who’ve lost their family members. And yet they’ve been paid, but no amount of money can bring a human life back,” he said.

At the same time, families of survivors of the Life Esidimeni tragedy said the criminal justice system had let them down.

The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) has been trying to set up pre-hearings for the Life Esidimeni tragedy for over a year now, and it seems to have made little progress and was still searching for dates.

For many affected families this has been a bitter pill to swallow.

Last year, the NPA said there was not enough evidence to prove the cause of death or link the actions of different role players to the eventual deaths.

Download the EWN app to your iOS or Android device.