17/02/2017 19:33 SAST | Updated 18/02/2017 07:10 SAST

Now Relatives Learn Esidimeni Patients May Have Already Been Buried Without Their Knowledge

A Pretoria NGO admits burying six patients, says the DA.

Demonstrators gathered in front of the office of the presidency of Gauteng State hold placards during a protest held over the death of 94 psychiatry patients.
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Demonstrators gathered in front of the office of the presidency of Gauteng State hold placards during a protest held over the death of 94 psychiatry patients.

The Life Esidimeni controversy continues to haunt authorities amid claims an NGO contracted to look after mentally ill patients privately buried those who died without telling their families.

The Democratic Alliance's Jack Bloom said he was horrified to read a report in Beeld newspaper about the unauthorised burials of six of the 10 patients at Tshepng NGO in Pretoria.

They were among more than 100 psychiatric patients who died when they were removed from Life Esidimeni to unlicensed NGOs throughout Gauteng in a cost-saving measure by the provincial health department.

"Karina Morale, who runs the Tshepong NGO in Pretoria, has admitted that her organisation buried six of the ten patients who died there. She says that the Gauteng Health Department knows that they gave them private burials rather than pauper burials so that they could show any family members where they were buried, but she won't reveal where these burials are," said Bloom.

The NGO claimed to have failed to contact the families of patients who died as they had reportedly been transferred from Life Esidimeni without records.

But both the Gauteng health department and the office of Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi claimed to have been unaware of this.

"We are not aware of this and we just heard of this on our WhatsApp group‚" said national health department spokesperson Joe Maila.

"These are allegations that need to be further investigated‚" Maila told TMG Digital.

Health Ombudsman Malegapuru Makgoba in his report found that all 27 of the NGOs that the department had identified and moved the patients to were operating with invalid licences. He said, therefore, that all patients who died in these NGOs died in unlawful circumstances.

The patients died from neglect‚ cold‚ starvation and dehydration.

Bloom said Morale claimed the patients died of natural causes.

"It is highly irregular and suspicious that private burials were done as it is usually the state's responsibility, and it would be illegal if done without a valid death certificate. There are 19 unclaimed bodies in mortuaries that are likely to be added to the tally of former Life Esidimeni patients who died in dodgy NGOs. There may be other NGOs who have buried bodies themselves, possibly to cover up evidence of neglect that would be exposed by a post-mortem," he said.

Gauteng department of health spokesperson Thabo Masebe said he was not aware of such and the matter would have to be investigated. He added that NGOs don't have the authority to bury people.

"We will have to investigate that matter because we don't know anything about it. In the event that people pass away and they are in the care of the state and no one comes forward to get them, the state can bury them. I don't know about an NGO having that power," said Masebe.