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Butchery turned into mortuary for Esidimeni’s dead

By Katharine Child | 2017-10-13 14:16:16.0

Retired Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke is heading the arbitration hearings between the State and the families of victims in the Life Esidimeni tragedy. Arbitration hearings have kicked off‚ in which three weeks are set down to find justice for families of the psychiatric patients who lost their lives. / ALON SKUY/THE TIMES

A butchery was converted into an illegal mortuary and a horse stable was converted into a home for mentally ill patients who were moved from Life Esidimeni homes.

This emerged in the testimony of the national Health Department director-general, Precious Malebona Matsoso, at the Life Esidimeni arbitration hearings in Johannesburg.

The hearings are to get answers why more than 118 patients died when moved from Esidimeni's institutions.

More than 1400 patients were moved to various NGOs across Gauteng, many of which were unlicensed and not equipped to accommodate mental patients.

After the deaths, Matsoso became very involved and visited an NGO that had held patients. She learned the facility was converted from a horse stable.

7 Life Esidimeni dead unidentified and 59 missing

Matsoso also went to a day of mourning with affected families who had lost loved ones. One told her that a funeral parlour that the relative had gone to while searching for a missing body was in fact a former butchery.

Matsoso said: "She [the deceased relative] knew Saulsville and Atteridgeville, very well. The facility she was referred to was a butchery. It is on those basis that I decided to do an investigation myself."

Matsoso immediately went to the converted butchery and tried to gain access, staying there till 11pm. With the police's help, she traced the owner who at first refused to come to the building until police fetched her.

The owner said she didn't have keys and drove around with police looking for them.

I have no excuse why we had to hurry move‚ says official on transfer of Life Esidimeni patients

The next day, however, she had found her keys and bodies were found inside. It did not seem bodies inside were linked to Esidimeni, said Matsoso. But this incident at the unlicensed, converted butchery led Matsoso to the funeral company Put You To Rest that was transporting Esidimeni bodies to different institutions under its Limpopo licence.

Put You To Rest did not have storage facilities for bodies in Gauteng but was keeping them and transporting them, in contravention of laws.

The Health Department also helped trace bodies that had been given a paupers' burial by funeral parlours and then linked them to family members so they could rebury them.

Earlier in the day, it was revealed that there are 59 untraced people who were discharged from Life Esidimeni, who have not been found but are receiving pension or disability grants.

Additionally, there are "seven corpses that are yet to be identified and families still to be traced", Matsoso said.

Former deputy chief justice Dikgang Moseneke, who is chairing the hearing, said to advocate Adila Hassim: "Human remains in a butchery - sounds ominous ..."

Hassim said: "The mortuary had been a butchery in a previous life."