Greedy and callous leftist bureaurats conspired to let 143 mental-health patients die in South Africa; the victims were often imprisoned without food, water or any form of care. This much has emerged from a judicial enquiry into the Life Esidimeni affair, described by the presiding judge Dikgang Moseneke as “an egregious, horrendous devastation of human life”.
A clinical psychologist, Coralie Trotter, described the treatment meted out to patients by state-appointed overseers as “similar to torture… Once you decide a group of people are undesirable and they are then dehumanised, that becomes torture.”
The tale of state-sponsored dehumanisation and killing of mental patients had a macabre ending when bodies were piled high in makeshift morgues. Despite the judicial enquiry and media attention to what has been termed “the Life Esidimeni tragedy”, 55 patients are still officially “missing”, bringing the total close to 200 people.
“Esidimeni” means “place of dignity” and was a name given to the Life healthcare group’s range of mental-health facilities that operated under government contracts. However, for reasons that have still not become clear, these contracts were terminated and the patients handed over to shadowy “NGO’s” who slowly starved them to death.
South Africa’s mainstream media have been trying to whitewash the atrocity by dubbing it “the Life Esidimeni tragedy”. Not only is it inaccurate, as the patients were no longer under treatment with the private-hospital group, but calling it a “tragedy” implies that it was akin to an accident or natural disaster, whereas it was obviously planned by the highest decision-makers in the provincial government, including the MEC (Member of the Executive council) for health, Qedani Mahlangu and the finance MEC, Barbara Creecy.
Both Mahlangu and Creecy testified before the commission, but shed little light on why the patients were moved to dubious NGOs where they would meet their deaths. Whereas it was initially claimed to be a “cost-saving measure” by the provincial health department, Creecy stressed in her testimony that the department had had enough money at the time. Although the province as a whole was applying cost-savings measures, she told the hearing that these were only meant to apply to “non-core items”.
Creecy claimed “not to know” why Life Esidimeni had to be shut down and replaced with the deadly NGOs that starved mental patients to death. According to her, “even in tough financial situations, the department of health has received additional money, in every budget and every adjustment, and that is relevant to this enquiry. Because if at any stage we had been told that ‘we can’t fund statutory services, please give us more money’, that could have been taken into consideration.”
The MEC for health at the time of the deaths, Qedani Mahlangu, as if to boost her status before the judge and the hearing, explained to the audience that she had been trained as an ANC terrorist before.
In a bizarre statement before the judge and audience, Mahlangu said: “And in my experience as an activist, at one point, I was trained on how to hold and detonate a hand grenade, how to dismantle an AK-47 and all of that.”
In post-1994 South Africa, “activism” and “terrorism” or attacks on civilians are regularly equated, especially by members of the ruling party. While Thabo Mbeki was still president, he referred to Robert McBride’s “activism”, such as placing a bomb in Magoo’s bar, Durban, killing three white women and injuring 69 other people.
In the Pretoria township of Atteridgeville, a house belonging to an NGO called Precious Angels owned by Ethel Ncube, housed some mental patients. Despite strange events at the house, a neighbour did not think of reporting it to health inspectors as she thought the presence of some white people among the inmates made it look “legitimate”.
“There were white patients there, so I was sure that the NGO was legitimate,” she said. “I could have saved many lives. Look what happened now.”
According to her, “Patients used to cry loudly day and night. We witnessed ambulances and hearses coming in and out from the house. At some point we had to stop our kids from playing outside because they were being exposed to dead bodies while playing. This was bad for our children.”
Ethel Ncube with her Precious Angels became an angel of death as 23 of the 58 patients in her care died.
The head of mental health services in the Gauteng province, Dr Makgabo Manamela, who apparently receives a very high salary which she refused to disclose to the commission, even issued licences for institutions that did not exist. During her testimony before the commission, Judge Dikgang Moseneke asked her, “Why did you issue a licence for a premise (sic) that does not exist?” to which she replied: “It was an error.” After some more questions from the judge, she described another dubious decision as “an overlook”.
Despite Mahlangu and Creecy’s talk of “cost savings” by the Gauteng provincial government and health department, it racked up R483-million in irregular expenditure in the 2015/16 financial year alone, according to its own annual reports. The cancelled contract with Life Esidimeni was worth R250 million, which the Department of Health supposedly “saved” by farming out patients to shadowy, unlicensed NGOs where patients died like flies. However, in the same financial year the department spent a whopping R90 million on consultants. It paid paid R30-million to a consulting firm for 12 weeks of work at Baragwanath Hospital in Soweto. It contracted McKinsey to host a two-day workshop for an amount of R485 000. It disbursed a further R59 million to a black law firm known as Ngcebetsha Madlanga Attorneys, apparently “to audit medico-legal cases against the department”. As a result of the many “accidents”, cases of negligence and deaths in South Africa’s state hospitals run by provinces such as Gauteng, the number of law suits have escalated.
Just today it was reported that a white Afrikaner man, Christiaan van Heerden, whose name had been on the list of 55 missing people, was found in a state mental hospital, Weskoppies. However, he had died on 14 October 2017. That would mean that his family would not qualify for the compensation promised to relatives of the 143 former Life Esidimeni patients.
Questions put to the Gauteng Health Department by FreeWestMedia were not answered. The first mystery was why the patients were transferred from Life Esidimeni to the NGOs in the first place. No reply was forthcoming from the department.
We also put it directly to the Gauteng Health Department that “comparisons were being drawn between South Africa’s left-wing revolutionary government and communist governments in the former Eastern Europe who also let people die in mental institutions”. Again, the department refused to comment.
The third issue on which we quizzed the department was whether there were any political or cultural dissidents among the 143 dead patients. To date, no complete list of dead patients have been published, nor did the Gauteng health department answer any questions in this regard.
The case of Christiaan van Heerden who was first reported “missing” and then turned up dead in another state psychiatric hospital shows that, despite two months of glaring publicity from the mainstream media, the fate of many patients remains shrouded in mystery.