Figure for deaths in Esidimeni tragedy may be higher

Gauteng Health MEC Dr Gwen Ramokgopa gives testimony at the at the Life Esidimeni Hearings in Parktown, Johannesburg. At least 144 mentally ill patients died after being moved to unlicensed NGO’s in an attempt to cut costs.
Gauteng Health MEC Dr Gwen Ramokgopa gives testimony at the at the Life Esidimeni Hearings in Parktown, Johannesburg. At least 144 mentally ill patients died after being moved to unlicensed NGO’s in an attempt to cut costs.
Image: ALAISTER RUSSELL

The number of people who died in the Life Esidimeni saga could be 156‚ rather than the accepted number of 144 deaths.

This emerged on the final day of witness testimony after more than ten weeks of hearings.

The Life Esidimeni hearings aim to find closure for families of the mentally ill patients who died following the transfer of 1‚700 patients to ill-equipped NGOs.

According to an advocate representing Section 27‚ Nikki Stein‚ there are an outstanding 12 names not included on the list of 144 dead .

Section 27 asked on December 7th that the state verify these patients had in fact died after leaving Life Esidimeni homes. This has not been done.

The number of dead matters because Justice Dikgang Moseneke will determine a financial award for the families of victims.

Moseneke told the hearing: “We’d have to devise a process that’ll bring us certainty. You are talking about lives and families and additional pain."

The state and families are currently in negotiations about what the financial award will be and what each party will ask for and offer in compensation before Moseneke makes the award.

Moseneke has given the state until Thursday next week‚ the day the final arguments in the hearings will take place‚ to finalise the names and numbers of the deceased.

If the state does not provide the final list‚ Moseneke is going to use the list that Section 27 has in its possession. This would bring the number of dead to 156.

State advocate Tebogo Hutamo said if the names of the deceased could be verified‚ the state was not against inclusion of additional people on the final list. But he said he could not guarantee the final number would be completed in the time required as the state is relying on the health ombudsman to verify the dead.

Moseneke was annoyed as he said the witness testimony hearings have to wrap up on Wednesday.

On Wednesday‚ former Health MEC Gwen Ramakgopa also testified that the health department believed that 55 rather than 62 former Life Esidimeni patients were missing. Of these‚ seven may have been found in NGOs.

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