Let's avoid a repeat of Esidimeni

Image: Antonio Muchave ©Sowetan

The Life Esidimeni tragedy ranks very high among the darkest events to shame post-apartheid South Africa and its much-vaunted "people's" constitution.

Our constitution is hailed the world over as the best in terms of the protection of freedoms and human rights.

It was, therefore, painfully undignified for affected families and the nation to experience the deaths of more than 140 mentally ill patients after they were handed over to nongovernment organisations (NGOs) with no experience of taking care of this highly vulnerable section of our population.

It was prudent, therefore, that a tribunal searching for answers for the deaths of so many people under state care was set up.

From the beginning, the hearings revealed shocking details and a non-caring attitude towards the patients left in the hands of unlicensed NGOs, some of which were haphazardly established in haste just to cash in at the expense of patients.

And, even more shocking, all this happened with the approval of senior officials of the Gauteng health department.

The hearings, chaired by retired former deputy chief justice Dikgang Moseneke, resume today after a break for the festive holidays.

Though the nation is looking forward to former health MEC Qedani Mahlangu's testimony next week, one of the main players in the saga announced his resignation this week.

Dr Barney Selebano, who approved the transfer of the patients, resigned as Gauteng health department head.

Mahlangu, whose demeanour has been painted as that of a bully during the hearings, steps in at the time criminal intent has been established. It is expected that she'll vigorously defend her decisions, but that will be too late to hide the level of injustices visited upon the desperate patients, before and after their deaths. Whatever she says, a prima facie case of criminality has been established and, for that, law enforcement agencies must get into action and prepare to prosecute.

When all that needs to be done to seek justice for the victims has taken place, the nation should be left with the hope that never shall such a malicious act as the Life Esidimeni tragedy happen again.

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