President Cyril Ramaphosa has signed an amended proclamation to broaden the terms of reference of the Special Investigating Unit’s (SIU) probe into the Life Esidimeni tragedy, reports Polity. The ANC and the Democratic Alliance (DA) in Gauteng have both welcomed Ramaphosa’s move to give the SIU the go-ahead to investigate the deaths.
“The broadened terms of reference include looking into 28 entities in whose care psychiatric patients were entrusted,” said Tasneem Motara, ANC Gauteng executive committee spokesperson.
Motara is quoted in the report as saying the tragedy remained one of the most “woeful chapters” in the history of public health in Gauteng. “We reiterate the call that we previously made that all state institutions, including law enforcement agencies as well as regulatory institutions that have been tasked with further investigations into the circumstances that led to the Life Esidimeni tragedy must act swiftly to complete their investigations and take appropriate action against those found to have transgressed the law,” Motara said.
“We remain hopeful that this process aimed at ensuring that redress and justice are meted out, will eventually contribute to the mending of deep wounds and scars carried by the families and relatives of the deceased. We call on all affected and interested parties to give their full cooperation to the SIU probe into the matter,” said Motara.
DA spokesperson on health in the province Jack Bloom said he was concerned that there could be endless investigation “instead of prosecutions that convict guilty people in court”. “We need to know how the SIU is coordinating with the police investigation which is slow and under-resourced. Proper expertise and resources are needed to ensure a speedy conclusion to investigations so that all those implicated in the Esidimeni tragedy are punished,” Bloom said.
Bloom said he had repeatedly asked Gauteng Premier David Makhura to take legal steps to force former Gauteng Health MEC Qedani Mahlangu and former senior health officials to personally pay the multimillion-rand compensation amount to Esidimeni victims, but to no avail.
In 2017, former president Jacob Zuma signed a proclamation allowing the SIU to investigate allegations against Gauteng’s Health Department.
The initial proclamation tasked the SIU with investigating matters relating to unlawful and improper conduct on the part of 28 NGOs tasked with taking care of psychiatric patients.
The report says the SIU would look into whether the NGOs were paid “in a manner that was not fair, transparent, equitable and contrary to applicable legislation”.
A relative of a Life Esidimeni victim has, meanwhile, lambasted the DA for disrespecting the deceased by using their names on a billboard. “For them to put up a billboard, not even a place of remembrance, a dignified place, is disrespectful. A billboard is for advertising. They are advertising the names of these people. For so many people to support this is mind-blowing. Until it happens to you, you never understand the pain and suffering,” Christine Nxumalo is quoted in a Polity report as saying.
The DA, last week, unveiled a campaign billboard with the names of the victims of Marikana, Life Esidimeni and the children who have died in pit toilets around the country. The party claimed that the ANC was the cause of these tragedies and also blamed the party for crime-related deaths in South Africa.
Nxumalo said the billboard was distasteful and caused harm to grieving families. Her sister Virginia Machpelah, 53, was moved between facilities at least five times through various non-profits, leaving her family unable to locate her. “When we did eventually find her, she had passed on,” an emotional Nxumalo said in the report.
Nxumalo said Machpelah’s daughter died a year later of broken heart syndrome, leaving her family with a double tragedy. “There is so much pain and anxiety that came with this. It was not just the victims, but families also. We felt we were just getting to terms with things. Clearly, we are not being given the opportunity to do that.” Nxumalo added: “A name means so much. It means everything. To just use it any way you feel is not okay.”
She said the DA and leader Mmusi Maimane should have considered the families of the victims. “It shows a lack of remorse or understanding. Where is the moral compass? Where are the principles?”
The report says in response, the DA said it was open to engage with the families and the public regarding the thought that went into it unveiling the billboard.
DA spokesperson Solly Malatsi said that the names of victims were publicised extensively on various media platforms including print, television, radio and online. “The names are something that is public knowledge and extensively been a source of public consumption, be it print media, social media and even in government reports.” He added: “Having the names of those individuals on the billboard is not publication of any personal information that has not been in the public domain.”
However, premier candidate Solly Msimanga acknowledged that none of the affected families had been approached. “We are open to engaging with the families or whoever might be coming through in terms of the thought that went into this,” Msimanga said. He said the party was also willing to listen to family members about the hurt that the board may have caused. “It’s something that the leaders will also engage internally, in terms of how we will then engage with the families and how we will communicate and deal with this matter going forward,” Msimanga said.
Provincial leader John Moodley added that putting up the billboard was not a way of capitalising on the families’ hurt. “Something that we need to keep in the thoughts of our people is that these tragedies happened to families, but they have affected us as South Africans, because it is a government that is uncaring that has caused these unfortunate deaths,” said Moodley.
The report says following the unveiling of the board, the ANC said it would take up the matter in the appropriate forums provided for in the country’s electoral laws. “The antics of the DA expose the bankruptcy of their politics and the levels of desperation they have descended to. This is a party whose politics have become toxic, (which believes) that fear mongering and spreading lies will frighten voters (into supporting) them in the upcoming elections,” acting ANC spokesperson Zizi Kodwa said.