Final day of the Life Esidimeni hearings begins

Retired Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke is heading the arbitration hearings between the State and the families of victims in the Life Esidimeni tragedy.
Retired Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke is heading the arbitration hearings between the State and the families of victims in the Life Esidimeni tragedy.
Image: ALON SKUY/THE TIMES

The final day of the Life Esidimeni hearings in which former Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke will soon award constitutional damages to families of patients who died has begun.

Moseneke says the judgment is more than 100 pages but he will "read essential parts of the judgment" to show how he has arrived at the decision‚ he says.

The hearings were held after about 144 severely mentally ill patients died after being moved into ill-equipped and under-funded NGOs. Some were transported on the back of trucks like cattle‚ many did not get medication and some appeared to have starved to death.

From 2015‚ the Gauteng department of health was warned by families‚ NGOs‚ and psychiatrists not to move severely mentally ill patients into under resourced NGOs. But in 2016‚ the chaotic move went ahead.

In one case a family member found a mentally ill survivor strapped to a bed at Tembisa hospital‚ lying in his own faeces near a patient that had recently died.

In South African law‚ compensation paid is if a person suffers due to negligence‚ but the compensation is usually limited to loss of earnings or the cost of future medical care.

As the patients were not earning money‚ damages were agreed to be paid by the state at R200 000 for each. This covers R20 000 funeral costs and R180 000 for pain and suffering.

Before the hearings‚ Moseneke said he would seek to decide what a life was worth "in a country were half of people were not earning [a salary]". He would not rely on existing law‚ where damages are linked to loss of earnings and future medical expenses.

"South Africans have to work hard to find out what equitable redress would mean. What is the nature of constitutional damages in a country with half of the people not earning? If someone invades their dignity‚ how do they get compensated?" said Moseneke.

Speaking on how damages are linked to loss of future earnings he said: "There is a quite a big debate to be had here. If you have no money whatsoever - do we just say sorry if you’re dead?"

The hearings are not a criminal trial‚ but a process in which the state agreed to liability for the deaths. The hearings are funded from the Gauteng provincial budget. 

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