02/02/2017 21:46 SAST | Updated 02/02/2017 21:50 SAST

Finally, President Zuma Offers Condolences To The Families Of 94 Dead Psychiatric Patients

The government publicly admitted to 36 deaths in September and the damning Health Ombud's report this week counted 94 deaths.

Rogan Ward / Reuters
President Jacob Zuma

President Jacob Zuma on Thursday extended condolences to the families of 94 mentally ill patients, who died in Gauteng during cost-cutting measures.

Zuma has been slow to offer condolences to the families, despite the fact that it has been widely known since last year that dozens of patients died. Gauteng Health MEC Qedani Mahlangu, who resigned this week after the damning Health Ombud's report on the matter was released, told the Gauteng Legislature in September last year that 36 people had died although the ombud found that by then, 77 patients had already died.

Zuma thanked Health Ombudsman Malegapuru Makgoba for his report and investigation into the circumstances of the deaths.

He said this would help the government ensure that "such a tragedy does not recur in the health sector".

Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi would brief Zuma on steps to be taken to ensure that the utmost care, support, empathy and expertise were made available to people requiring mental health care.

The 94 deaths followed the transfer of the patients from the Life Esidimeni facility to several NGOs in 2016, as part of the provincial health department's cost-cutting measures.

At least 94 of the patients died between March 23 and December 19 2016, Makgoba said on Wednesday.

At the same briefing, Gauteng Premier David Makhura said he had accepted Health MEC Qedani Mahlangu's resignation.

The DA, Cope and ANC Youth League have all separately called for Makhura to step down in the wake of the deaths.

The EFF laid charges against Makhura and Mahlangu on Thursday morning. The ANCYL was expected to do the same later in the day.

The families of those who died were also considering legal action.

The government also offered its condolences on Thursday, saying it was deeply saddened by the tragic losses.

"We are confident that as a caring and transparent government, all relevant authorities will give the report and its recommendations the full attention they deserve," said Acting Director-General of Government Communication and Information System Donald Liphoko.

"We fully appreciate how deeply this issue has touched the lives of the families and friends affected and offer our very deepest condolences," said Liphoko.