Hearings into deaths of Esidimeni victims

Families of the 141 psychiatric patients who died in the Life Esidimeni tragedy after they were transferred to illegal NGOs are relieved that a step has been taken to bring to book those responsible for their deaths.

This comes after the announcement yesterday that justice minister Ronald Lamola will approach the judge president's (JP's) office to request the appointment of a presiding officer to chair an inquest into the deaths.

National Prosecuting Authority spokesperson Phindi Mjonondwane said the acting director of Public Prosecutions Adv George Baloyi took a decision to refer all Life Esidimeni matters to a joint inquest hearing on September 3.

"Subsequent to his decision, the National Director of Public Prosecutions, Adv Shamila Batohi, submitted a request to minister Lamola to approach the JP's office to appoint a presiding officer to preside over the inquest," Mjonondwane said.

Mjonondwane said a date for the inquest still needed to be determined.

"We'll await further guidance from the office of the judge president in relation to who he has appointed to preside over the joint inquest into the Life Esidimeni deaths and the duration of the inquest and the period in which the inquest will be heard."

Christine Nxumalo from the Life Esidimeni Family Committee, and a sister of one of the deceased, told Sowetan they were happy that one more step has been taken in holding those accountable for the deaths after patients were transferred to unsuitable NGOs by the Gauteng department of health in 2016.

"We are very happy about what is happening. In 2016, we requested for an inquest to take place but felt that we were being ignored. We were asking the relevant authorities to push for an inquest because nothing was happening," she said.

Nxumalo said the NPA had told the families that it could not prosecute anyone because there was not enough evidence that directly implicated an individual.

"They said the only option they had was to have an inquest and said they would be back to us in January, so we are very happy because their silence was concerning. It was as if they would not do anything about this matter."

She said this was a step in the right direction and hoped that the inquest would lead to a prosecution so that "we get closure".

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