Four out of 59 mentally ill patients who went missing during the chaotic Life Esidimeni marathon relocation, have been located, the arbitration hearings into the project heard on Wednesday.
“Four of the unaccounted for patients on the list were identified, some were in [nongovernmental organisations] NGOs, some had been at home and such,” Gauteng health member of the executive council (MEC), Gwen Ramokgopa said.
Ramokgopa was testifying at the Life Esidimeni arbitration hearings into the deaths of 144 psychiatric patients.
She clarified that the reported number of 62 missing patients was an error and on their list. She said they always had 59 patients reported as missing.
On Wednesday morning, Ramokgopa said she was notified about a further number of seven patients who have been located, but said she needed time to verify the information.
“I’m asking that I’m allowed to subject this number of 48 through the validation process that we have put in place.”
Ramokgopa said she was excited at the way things were moving, as this meant the department was closer to reuniting the lost patients with their families.
Retired Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke – who was appointed to lead the mediation process between government and the loved ones of the Life Esidimeni victims – asked Ramokgopa if the unaccounted for patients were still alive.
Ramokgopa responded saying: “We cannot account for them. I am hoping they will be found alive. We haven’t found them in mortuaries or police custody yet.”
She said six directors, who were part of the botched marathon project, have pleaded guilty during their internal disciplinary hearing.
“They were given final written warnings.”
Ramokgopa said she asked that the cases be reopened because the sanction does not correlate with the crime.
“I found it very difficult to understand how the outcome of the inquiry could be that the chairperson was fit to still hold office,” she said.
Former head of the mental health Dr Barney Selebano has been reported to the Health Professions Council of South Africa and former director of mental health Dr Makgabo Manamela and others have been reported to the South African Nursing Council.
Last year, 144 mentally ill patients died following the bungled relocation from Life Esidimeni to ill-equipped NGOs across Gauteng. Most people died of starvation and neglect.
The hearings seeks to help provide family members with closure and redress.
“As we speak now, the Gauteng health department is in dire financial straits. We are committed to sit down with families and look into what is in their best interest and we can still be able to continue offering services. The health system is indeed in serious strain,” Ramokgopa said.
Minister of Health Aaron Motsoaledi is expected to testify after Ramokgopa.
– African News Agency (ANA)