On the 19th of March 2018, the families of the victims of the Life Esidimeni tragedy each accepted an amount of R1.2 million compensation from the state. This was a product of the 2017 hearings into the matter. While the South African Federation for Mental Health welcomes the remittance of this amount, no amount of money can make true amends to those who lost their loved ones. The non-derogable right to life of the victims was needlessly extinguished and while it is no doubt a gesture of goodwill to remit the payment, material reparation cannot make up for the grief and the pain caused to the families of those who died. That the state is compensating the families of the victims has been hailed as a watershed moment- but for whom and to what extent? At this juncture we have to ask ourselves: do we accept this “better than nothing” approach or do we reflect and take a long hard look at how we got to this point and what must be done to continue to ameliorate the plight of vulnerable mental healthcare users in the future.
Life Esidemeni appeared as a shocking revelation in the media but it was long-foreseen by stakeholders in the field. Civil society, experts, professionals, mental healthcare users and their families warned the Gauteng Department of Health about what the outcome of the poorly-executed, ill-advised and poorly-planned Marathon Project would be. If the Gauteng Department of Health had heeded this warning, a great amount of anguish, lives and money could have been spared.
The biggest question in this scenario ought to be whether anything has changed for similarly-situated people. Unfortunately the outlook seems bleak. The Gauteng Department of Health continues to transfer patients to non-governmental organisations (NGO’s) with no official licensing guidelines. There is also no attempt to improve the resources allocated to fully-functional NGO’s for those patients who require community care and who cannot be accommodated by their families. In addition, there are still mental health care users who were transferred from Life Esidimeni to NGO’s who remain unaccounted for- their families remaining in a limbo situation.
There have been criticisms levied at government as to the amount spent on the hearings. We make no analysis of this. Instead, SAFMH articulates simply that had the situation never arisen in the first place, it is plain that this expenditure need never have been incurred. We submit that rather than quibble over the costs of a venue or for catering, we should instead reflect on how wasteful it is to allow a person to lose their life.
All lives matter- regardless of how severe a person’s disability might be. Everyone has the right to have their dignity respected and no decisions taken by anyone should ever lead to their marginalisation, disempowerment or deaths; especially decisions made in the name of money-saving. Mental Health Review Boards need to ensure that the rights of mental health care users are upheld and that mental health care users are represented on the Review Boards. Services to mental health care users need to be available, acceptable and properly resourced. Only then can the rights of individuals so-situated be realised.
For Enquiries Contact:
Leon de Beer
Deputy Director: South African Federation for Mental Health
Tel: 011 781 1852