Ramokgopa visits ex Esidimeni patients

Former Life Esidimeni patient Georgie van der Merwe is now staying with his niece Narisha Poonen in Lenasia, southern Johannesburg.
Former Life Esidimeni patient Georgie van der Merwe is now staying with his niece Narisha Poonen in Lenasia, southern Johannesburg.
Image: Mduduzi Ndzingi

For about two years Georgie van der Merwe lived with his niece in Lenasia, southern Johannesburg, without the Gauteng department of health knowing his whereabouts.

Van der Merwe is one of the five Life Esidimeni psychiatric patients who were located by the department in the past two weeks. Yesterday, Van der Merwe, 60, enjoyed a light meal with health MEC Gwen Ramokgopa as the department celebrated some progress in the country's biggest tragedy since democracy.

Ansley Keysern, who is married to Van der Merwe's niece Narisha Poonen, said his condition has improved since moving in with the family.

"It has been two years now since we have been living with Georgie. He had been living with his sister . but she passed away.

"Unfortunately, the department did not know where he was all this time until recently.

"At first he was very bad. He was not well. He had some bruises. Since he came back he is fine. He is eating well and he's taking his medication."

Another family of one of the five previously unaccounted for Life Esidimeni mentally ill patients said they do not want to admit their loved one to any facility. "We don't trust any facility now. It is better to just look after her here at home," said Lindi Juqu, aunt to Xoliswa Juqu's aunt, who was recently located by the department of health.

Ramokgopa said Juqu could not be located because her surname was spelled incorrectly in their records.

"The surname was spelled incorrectly, that is why home affairs took long to locate her," said Ramokgopa, speaking outside Juqu's home in Soweto yesterday.

Juqu was admitted at Life Esidimeni in 2015. She was discharged and admitted at Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital in 2017. She was released to her family in June last year.

"She is doing well here at home. She takes her medication," Lindi said.

Lindi is also looking after Juqu's mother, who is also mentally ill. "She [Xoliswa] was not well when she came back. She didn't make sense when she spoke and she was cheeky," Lindi said.

Ramokgopa said the other Life Esidimeni patients were in Weskoppies in Pretoria, Soweto, Zuurbekom and Ekurhuleni.

"Out of the tragedy and pain of Life Esidimeni, these are positive outcomes. The family here in Lenasia has been welcoming. We even had lunch with the family.

"We could not account for them because of the lack of details. Some of their contact numbers had changed and so had their addresses. In some instances, we had a name from the list that we got from Life Esidimeni and no surname, or we got the ID with no name.

"We had to work with Sassa [the SA Social Security Agency] to locate the patients. I am really heartened that out of the 100 unaccounted for patients, we now stand with 16. This is still a huge number but we are working relentlessly until we account for each one of them."

Van der Merwe has been getting his medication from a local clinic.

At least 144 psychiatric patients died after 1,711 mentally ill people were moved from Life Esidimeni homes into ill-equipped and underfunded NGOs in Gauteng in 2016.

The patients were treated badly and their rights violated in this process.

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