GOVERNMENT has been ordered to pay over R1 million to the claimants of the Life Esidimeni tragedy within three months.
The ruling was delivered by former Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke on the last day of the arbitration hearings in Johannesburg.
“The government of the Republic of South Africa – as represented by the national minister of health, the premier of Gauteng and members of the executive government – are ordered to pay an agreed amount of R20 000 to each of the claimants listed in annexure A and B in respect of funeral expenses. The government is ordered to pay R180 000 to each of the claimants listed in annexure A, B and C in respect of the shock and psychological trauma,” he said.
“The government is ordered to pay R1m to each of the claimants listed in annexure A, B and C as appropriate relief or compensation for the government’s breach of Constitution. It cannot be later than the 19th of June 2018.”
Moseneke was scathing towards government and further hit it with an order to pay the legal costs of the arbitration. He further ordered government to provide trauma counselling for up to three family members for each patient alive or surviving.
He said he would donate his arbitration fees to law schools around the country to fund disadvantaged law students. He also called for a monument be erected in honour of the 144 mental health patients who died when they were moved to Non Governmental Organisations throughout the province.
Moseneke added that the rights of mentally ill patients and their families were violated and disregarded during the project. “All the facts here point to cruelty‚” he said.
The chief brains behind the disastrous project were not spared his wrath. He lashed out at former Gauteng health MEC Qedani Mahlangu, former Gauteng health department head Dr Barney Selebano and former Gauteng health department of health director Dr Makgabo Manamela for the way they conducted the process. He said their decision to move the patients was irrational and unconstitutional. Mahlangu was labelled the commander of the project.
“On all accounts she was at the helm of the marathon project. She was the ultimate leader and commander. Her plea of ignorance is patently untrue. Her conduct was irrational and she acted with impunity‚ thinking that she could get away with it”‚ he said.
One of the organisations representing the families welcomed the outcome, labelling it a watershed moment in the country.
“This is a watershed moment in South African law. It is a watershed moment for the constitution. It is a watershed for justice,” said Mark Heywood from Section27. He said it was clear from Moseneke’s judgement that government officials acted unlawfully. He said they should be arrested.
“If I were commissioner of police I would be sending my police officers to arrest them and begin the process of pressing criminal charges in one form or another. Regardless, this judgement is of unique importance not only to South Africa, but the for the world: recognising the health rights of the most vulnerable in society, in this case the mentally ill,” he said.
While the families welcomed the judgement, many still wanted to know why the real reasons for the deadly move. Christine Nxumalo who lost her sister said they were still left with questions.
“We still don’t know the reasons why this was done. This redress is great but it’s not the end. It has vindicated us and given us an opportunity to reload because criminal charges are what we ultimately want,” she said.