The SA Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) on Wednesday refuted allegations by the Democratic Alliance (DA) that it failed to act and prevent the deaths of 94 psychiatric patients after a complaint by an NGO concerning their transfer from Life Healthcare Esidimeni.
The commission’s Bongani Majola said he was concerned that the DA issued a statement criticising his organisation without first making an inquiry.
“Such an engagement would have benefited the author in that the commission would have availed information about the steps it had taken in this matter. In his report, Health Ombud Professor Malegapuru Makgoba specifically acknowledges the contributions made by the commission to his investigation,” Majola said in a statement.
“For example, the Ombud’s report makes specific mention of the commission’s investigation into Precious Angels Home as appears it in the section titled ‘Timelines of great concern’, which includes ‘The Voice of the SAHRC’.”
Earlier this week, DA Gauteng MPL Jack Bloom accused the commission of not acting swiftly on a complaint laid by Ubuntu Centre, an NGO for people with psychosocial disabilities.
Bloom said Ubuntu Centre’s Annie Robb wrote to SAHRC commissioner Bokankatla Malatji on 15 March 2016 requesting “immediate urgent attention” concerning the potential violation of the rights of those affected.
“Ms Robb says that the SAHRC did nothing and that Malatji, who chairs the SAHRC’s Section 11 Disability Committee, barely remembered the issue at a July meeting of her committee,” said Bloom.
Bloom said it was only on 24 August 2016 that she was phoned by a SAHRC legal officer to say they would assign a number to her complaint, and she told him “people are going to die if you do nothing”.
In September the SAHRC combined Robb’s complaint with another complaint concerning Precious Angels NGO in Pretoria, which it visited and found abandoned, Bloom said.
“But this was only after former Health MEC [Qedani Mahlangu] had disclosed the death of 36 patients and the appointment of the Health Ombudsman to investigate,” Bloom recalled.
“This calls into question the SAHRC’s competence to conduct a countrywide investigation into human rights compliance in mental health treatment, as recommended by the Health Ombudsman. The DA will insist that the SAHRC account for its inexcusable inaction to Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Justice and Correctional Services.”
However, Majola said the commission’s handling of the matter was informed by a number of factors.
“Amongst those were the earlier determinations by the courts. The other factors were the level of the technical, medical expertise required for a probe of this nature,” said Majola.
“The commission had also noted that the office of the Health Ombud had been appointed to investigate the matter and thus determined to support the investigation by the Health Ombud.”
The recently released health ombudsman report said as many as 94 mentally ill patients who were transferred from Life Healthcare Esidimeni to unlicensed care centres died of causes that included neglect and starvation.