As South Africans, we should be hanging our heads in abject shame at what points to the end of the tragic Life Esidimeni debacle, which claimed the lives of more than 100 of the most vulnerable of all our citizens.
The victims were among those unable to fully comprehend or adequately protect themselves from the vicissitudes of an already harsh existence in a climate unprepared to protect or nurture them.
Advocate Adila Hassim, appearing on behalf of the families of 74 people who died during and after the transfer of patients from Life Esidimeni facilities to a number of unlicensed NGOs, said the state had agreed to a R20 000 claim per family for funeral expenses, and R180 000 for emotional shock and psychological injury, and counselling services.
While we welcome the announcement of this bittersweet payout, we are forced to recall that these unfortunates died of hypothermia, starvation and other inhuman factors foisted on them by a provincial health department seemingly more concerned by budgetary factors than any milk of human kindness.
Equally disquieting has been the underlying “we did not know” reaction of the political appointees charged to monitor a process which harks uncomfortably back to the inhuman forced removals of the dark days of apartheid, tragically resulting in what can only have been sordid and lonely deaths at the 27 NGOs found to be underresourced, underfinanced and ill-equipped to take on the influx of psychiatric patients summarily dumped on them.
It was only much later that Gauteng health MEC Gwen Ramokgopa reluctantly admitted that the Life Esidimeni project was “chaotic” and “badly managed” – hardly, we would suggest, a ringing mea culpa.
What really emerges from the whole sorry saga is that there seems to have been little determination to ensure that this cannot happen again … any hint of this occurring can only further sully this nation’s soul.