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State 'lied' to Life Esidimeni patients' families

By Katharine Child | 2017-10-10 14:18:55.0

Professor Malegapuru Makgoba during heading the arbitration hearings between the State and the families of victims in the Life Esidimeni tragedy at Emoyeni Conference Centre in Parktown, Johannesburg. / Veli Nhlapo

The Gauteng health department was “economical with the truth” when it told families it would look after their loved ones in new NGOs‚ after they were moved from Life Esidimeni homes last year.

Ombudsman Malegapuru Makgoba is testifying at an arbitration hearing set down for three weeks to find “restorative justice” for families who had loved ones who died in ill-equipped NGOs.

The ombudsman did an investigative report into why the 1 400 or so psychiatric patients were moved‚ what happened and how patients died.

He is being cross-examined by advocate Dirk Groenewald‚ acting for the families of three patients who died after they were moved from Cullinan Care Rehabilitation Centre to make way for Life Esidimeni patients.

Why did Life Esidimeni happen?

Groenewald asked the ombudsman if he thought the state had lied when they promised concerned families the move of their loved ones would be “fine“.

Groenewald said families were told by the health department: “Your loved ones will be fine. They will be looked after.” Instead more than 118 died.

Groenewald asked the ombudsman if he thought the state lied to these family members. Makgoba would however not accuse the state of this. “I am not a lawyer. I find the usage of the word (’lied’) very complex. I don’t know if they lied or if they were incompetent.”

“There is a big difference between these two. Lying is deliberate intentional process. Incompetence is often unintentional.”

“There was just general incompetence across the system‚” he said describing the health department’s actions. “To say they lied‚ is too strong a word.”

At least 118 Life Esidimeni patients died

Groenewald then referenced the report written by the ombudsman. “The MEC‚ the head of department‚ directors‚ all the NGOs‚ all knew they did have not capacity to look after such [mentally ill] patients. They knew that and they said to the families‚ your family [members] will be fine.”

Makgoba then admitted: “Perhaps to put it in gentle English‚ they (the state) were economical with the truth.”

Makgoba also testified that seven Life Esidimeni patients died since they have been returned from NGOs to proper care over six months from about March till last month. He said this was a normal death rate of two a month.

Many of the psychiatric patients were very sick as it is common for multiple lifestyle diseases to occur concurrently in mental health patients.

Judge Dikgang Moseneke asked the ombudsman if former MEC Qedani Mahlangu had ever explained why she ignored multiple warnings from psychiatrists‚ civil society and families‚ months before moving the patients. “Did the MEC tell you why there was such a compelling administrative or leadership reason this had to happen?“

Malegapuru answered: “My father used to tell me it is very expensive to educate a child who is not bright.”