NEWS

Esidimeni Families Start Their Healing Process

"I can safely say that the families need closure... They are not necessarily fighting with government but they want to get the truth."

19/02/2017 07:08 SAST | Updated 19/02/2017 07:44 SAST
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"They are happy that a report and its recommendation is now enabling government to do the right thing."

Tears, songs and prayer marked the first day of healing for the families of the psychiatric patients who died after being transferred from Life Esidimeni to 27 unlicensed NGOs last year.

Family members gathered at Freedom Park on Saturday morning to begin their healing process.

Sitting under a large white stretched tent, the families opened the session by singing songs of praise, followed by the lighting of white candles and prayers from different faith.

Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi, Gauteng Premier David Makhura and newly appointed Health MEC Gwen Ramokgopa were at the ceremony.

The families had requested that both Motsoaledi and Makhura be there for the day. The aim of the session was to provide a platform for families to reflect on what had happened, as well as to share their experiences with the Makhura, Motsoaledi and one another.

The request was made to Makhura during his meeting with the families in December 2016.

It was unclear what was discussed, as the media was asked not to be present during the session.

However, Reverend Gift Moerane from the SA Council of Churches, told reporters outside the venue that the session was very important for the families, because they still needed closure.

"I can safely say that the families need closure... They are not necessarily fighting with government but they want to get the truth.

"They are happy that a report and its recommendation is now enabling government to do the right thing, which is to address issues that led to the death of their loved ones," Moerane said.

Heartache

He commended the families for making the decision to open themselves up to the pain and heartache again.

"The gesture for them to come here... and expose themselves to another pain, to reveal how they feel and we will give them the entire day to tell their own story, we will just be listening," he said.

Religious leaders, social workers, psychologists, ambulance and emergency services personnel were at the event to offer the families support.

About 45 family representatives of more than 100 patients were present. The circumstances of their deaths was investigated by Health Ombudsman Malegapuru Makgoba.

Moerane said there were a number of patients whose families had not claimed them from the morgues. He said the SACC would ensure that they received a dignified burial.

"Those who were not claimed, who cannot be identified... we will bury those people. We don't want those people to be buried as paupers, we want to give them dignified funerals."

On February 1, Makgoba said he found that 94 mentally-ill patients died after the Gauteng health department moved them from the Life Esidimeni facilities to the 27 NGOs to save money.

Makgoba identified former Health MEC Qedani Mahlangu and senior Gauteng health department officials Tiego Ephraim Selebano and Makgabo Manamela as the "key players" in the project.

Selebano was placed on precautionary suspension on February 8.

Reckless, unwise

Mahlangu resigned the night before Makgoba announced his findings. Disciplinary proceedings for gross misconduct against Manamela are underway.

"Their fingerprints are peppered throughout the project. The decision was reckless, unwise and flawed, with inadequate planning and a chaotic and rushed or hurried implementation process," Makgoba said at the time.

Although most of the deaths occurred at 16 of the 27 NGOs, all of them lacked experienced, qualified staff, and the proper facilities and resources, he said.

Mahlangu previously claimed that her department had vetted all the NGOs.

There was prima facie evidence that some officials and NGOs had violated the Constitution and contravened the National Health Care Act, Makgoba said.

He recommended that disciplinary proceedings be instituted against Selebano and Manamela for gross misconduct during his investigation, which included tampering with evidence.

Makhura and Motsoaledi have bowed to all of implement Makgoba's recommendations. -- News24