Families of Life Esidimeni victims expecting 'painful journey' with new inquest

The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) said the formal inquest hearing would start on 19 July.

FILE: 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 - Families affected by the Life Esidimeni tragedy said they are now preparing for another “painful journey” with a formal inquest set down for July.

But they are hopeful they will get some kind of closure.

In 2015, then-Gauteng Health MEC Qedani Mahlangu cancelled her department's contract with Life Esidimeni, a subsidiary of life healthcare which was taking care of psychiatric patients.

READ: Life Esidimeni formal inquest to begin in July, NPA announces

The move to other facilities, in a bid to cut costs, came with criticism and warnings by several NGOs, including SADAG and Section 27.

By the following year, the first group of patients had died and eventually, 144 passed away at various facilities, most of which were found to have not had enough capacity to care for their specific needs or administer the right medication.

“My office has furnished the South African Police with a full record of the proceedings, they must do their work as the law requires of them.”

Retired Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke made an order in March 2018 for the families of those who lost their loved ones as a result of negligence to be compensated.

During the arbitration process, Moseneke listened painfully to the graphic details of some NGOs which “turned out to be sites of death and torture” for patients.

Some were starved of food and water and medication was not properly administered.

Moseneke would later say that the Life Esidimeni case was the lowest point of his career.

Meanwhile, affected families have also been reflecting on the tragedy.

Andrew Pietersen's uncle was one of the few lucky ones who survived the transfer to an NGO.

Pietersen, who is part of the Life Esidimeni family committee, said that it would be a painful and emotional experience when the inquest started but he hoped that those responsible would finally be jailed.

“Sometimes when one wants healing, one needs to have some pain as well. We are quite aware that this will be a painful journey, but it is one we have to carry through.”

Section 27's Ntsiki Mpulo said they were pleased that a formal inquest would now determine whether anyone could be held criminally liable.

“For the families of the deceased, this is an important element of accountability for the deaths of their loved ones and something they have been calling for over 5 years."

The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) said the formal inquest hearing would start on 19 July.

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