The 20 Life Esidimeni patients still missing are ‘probably dead’

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Gauteng Health still cannot locate 20 state mental health patients it removed from Life Esidimeni facilities almost three years ago and they are “probably dead”, says the Democratic Alliance.

Bhekisisa reports Democratic Alliance (DA) Gauteng MPL Jack Bloom made the warned after Acting Health MEC Faith Mazibuko confirmed the figure in a written reply to questions Bloom posed in the provincial legislature. Mazibuko, Gauteng MEC for sport‚ arts‚ culture and recreation, is filling in for Health MEC Gwen Ramokgopa while she is on leave.

The report says in 2015, former Gauteng Health MEC Qedani Mahlangu decided to terminate a long-standing contract with Life Esidimeni facilities to provide care for state mental health patients. She then moved almost 1,700 patients from the private hospitals mainly to ill-equipped and unlicensed community NGOs. At least 144 died and some went missing.

The report says that Bloom released the list names of 20 of those still missing on Thursday of last week. A quarter of the patients described were sent to either the Mosego Home in Krugersdorp, Atteridgeville’s Rebafenyi Centre outside Pretoria or the nearby Tshepong NGO. The Gauteng Health Department does not know where six of the people whose names appear on the list were sent following the 2015 and 2016 removals.

“I am concerned that the three patients sent to Tshepong could have died and been secretly buried as it’s known that this NGO did six illegal burials of Esidimeni patients without death certificates and may have done more,” Bloom says.

In February, Bloom maintained that as many as 48 former Life Esidimeni patients could not be accounted for. Until now, however, Gauteng provincial spokesperson Thabo Masebe said that the department had located most of the missing patients after sifting through patient data. “When we cleaned the data, (we found) some of the people were actually duplicates. Some were using different names. Most of those people were actually found”, he is quoted in the report as saying.

The report says Masebe was not available for comment on new revelations from Bloom, who says it might be time to give up the search for the lost patients. “It’s been two years now, and we can’t trace them. Unfortunately, one would have to assume that many of them are no longer alive”, he argues. But Gauteng Health Department spokesperson Lesemang Matuka says it’s not possible to declare missing people officially dead without evidence.

Bloom argues that the Health Department should intensify íts search by making the names and pictures of patients public. Matuka says the department is working with the South African Police Service and department of social development to trace patients using their identity numbers and tracking social grant payments. The Health Department says it is also working to find five more mental health patients that were not at Life Esidimeni.

One such patient is 61-year-old Mohlalifi Seqala, who has been missing for more than 35 years. He was admitted into a mental health facility in Randfontein, west of Johannesburg, in 1978. Seqala was last seen in the 1980’s when the institution closed down. Seqala’s sister, Mieta Zulu, has been searching for her brother for just over two years. She used part of her state pension to make the nearly 300 km round trip from the Potchefstroom in the North West to Johannesburg and Pretoria to scour the wards of mental health facilities in hopes of finding Seqala.

In 2016, she says a security guard outside Life Esidimeni’s Randfontein hospital told her he saw Seqala being transferred alongside others to the state-run Cullinan Care and Rehabilitation Centre. But the Gaunteng Health Department and Life Healthcare, which operates Life Esidimeni facilities, say Seqala was never a patient there. “I have no peace in my heart because of my missing brother. It’s painful. I think about him when I eat, sleep, bath and dress. I don’t know where he is and what the kind of situation he’s in. I wake up in the middle of the night thinking about my brother,” Zulu says.

The report sayas officials within the Gauteng mental health directorate are prioritising Seqala’s case and have told her to be hopeful, she says, but she’s desperate for closure. “I want to find my brother, even if it’s his grave. I just need to know where he is.”

 

None of the 45 inquests into the deaths of former Life Esidimeni patients who died in illegal NGOs have yet been finalised, with delays blamed on “complexity of investigation and delay in obtaining information.”

Bloom writes in a statement on the Politicsweb site that this is according to Gauteng Community Safety MEC Sizakele Nkosi-Malobane in a written reply to questions in the Gauteng Legislature.

Bloom writes: “She says that ‘dockets and enquiry files are still at the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) for perusal and decision. The investigation team is attending to some of the queries received from the DPP’s office.’ Furthermore, ‘the following reports are still outstanding: Clinical reports, blood alcohol reports, toxicology reports and statements as per DPP’s queries.’

“I am concerned by the slow pace of this investigation more than 18 months after the 144 Esidimeni deaths. Only five detectives are working on the case, and the police say that no finalization date can be given at this stage. The police have also not laid any charges in this matter.

“The Esidimeni tragedy involved a wide range of crimes, including murder, culpable homicide, corruption, contraventions of the Mental Health Act, fraud, theft, and illegal licenses to NGOs.

“We are failed once again by police incompetence which is delaying accountability and punishment in court for all those implicated in the monstrous acts that lead to the deaths of so many helpless people.”

Bhekisisa report
Politicsweb statement


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