‘No evidence’ for prosecution but NPA refers Life Esidimeni dockets for inquest

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Three years after the Life Esidimeni tragedy, the families of the victims will now have to wait even longer to get any closure, following the National Prosecuting Authority‘s decision to refer the docket for a formal inquest. News24 reports that this was after investigators were unable to gather enough evidence to bring charges against anyone linked to the deaths in the 144 cases they probed.

The report says in total, 144 psychiatric patients died, many of starvation and neglect, after Gauteng Health cancelled their outsourced contract with Life Esidimeni to save money, transferring thousands of patients out of the facility.

Christine Nxumalo from the Life Esidimeni Family Committee said a number of questions could be answered at the inquest, such as what happened to nine patients who were still missing. “We will look at every official and role (they played) in this whole process; the police were also involved at some point. So, it’s going to open a bigger can of worms than the arbitration did.”

The families are outraged at the decision not to prosecute government officials, including former Gauteng Health MEC Qedani Mahlangu, says a Sunday Independent report. The NPA’s acting director advocate George Baloyi said that it would not prosecute those officials who were implicated in the deaths because of insufficient evidence, but recommended a formal inquest to be presided by a North Gauteng High Court Judge.

Andrew Pietersen, who represented the families during the alternative dispute resolution hearings chaired by retired deputy chief justice Dikgang Moseneke, called the decision “totally ridiculous”. “What kind of evidence do they need? There should be more than sufficient evidence from the hearings as well as the comprehensive report submitted by the health ombudsman. We are shocked but we do need to have the evidence consolidated and presented for a successful prosecution and conviction.”

Rashieda Landis, a DA councillor in Johannesburg whose son Sedick Isaacs survived after being transferred to an ill-equipped NGO (Kanana) in Vereeniging, did not mince her words when she said the NPA was being manipulated by the “mighty powers”. She questioned how the NPA conducted its investigations. Joseph Ngwenya considered his son Zibusiso lucky to have survived after being transferred to another NGO. According to the report he alleged that it seemed everyone who testified at the commission was scared of Mahlangu. “So advocate Baloyi is also one of them. He is on the side of those who have blood on their hands. People were starting to get closure, but now new wounds are opened by the NPA. I am so angry,” said Ngwenya.

The Democratic Alliance’s (DA’s) Jack Bloom said he was concerned that the NPA said it did not have enough evidence at this stage for a successful prosecution, but he was hopeful that the inquest would find grounds for murder and culpable homicide.

Meanwhile, it has been revealed that nine patients who were transferred from Life Esidimeni in 2016 have still not been found by Gauteng Health. Bloom said in a statement on the Politicsweb site that this was revealed by Gauteng Health MEC Bandile Masuku in an oral reply to questions in the Gauteng Legislature.

According to Bloom: “Masuku said that files of the patients had been requested from Life Esidimeni, but there were no files for 5 of the 9 missing patients. Two of the missing patients have ID numbers, but none are registered to receive a SASSA grant. Masuku said that no photographs were available of the remaining patients and some leads were still being followed to find them.

“I am pleased that progress has been made in finding more of the patients as 16 patients were missing in March this year.

“More than three years have passed since the disastrous transfer of Esidimeni patients to unsuitable NGOs where 144 died in terrible circumstances. I hope that the fate of the 9 missing patients can be discovered, otherwise they will have to be considered to be further Esidimeni fatalities.”

News24 report Sunday Independent report Statement on the Politicsweb site

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