Life Esidimeni — seven years of indignity and injustice

It’s been seven years since the lives of the families of patients at Life Esidimeni mental health facilities took a turn for the worse when they discovered their loved ones were being severely neglected and mistreated, and in some cases, died as a result of this.
‘Even if I’m left alone, I will continue fighting for my son. I always hear his voice calling me,” a determined Jabulile Hlatshwayo told those gathered at the Life Esidimeni healing ceremony last weekend.
It’s been seven years since the lives of the families of patients at Life Esidimeni mental health facilities took a turn for the worse when they discovered their loved ones were being severely neglected and mistreated, and in some cases, died as a result of this.
Year seven also marked the second year of the inquest into the cause of the deaths of more than 144 Life Esidimeni patients.
The inquest began in July 2021 after many false starts, with families eager to get clarity and closure on the circumstance that led to the deaths of their loved ones as well as to find out who was responsible. This was after the arbitration process, led by retired Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke, named the central players as the former head of Gauteng’s Department of Health Dr Barney Selebano, former Gauteng Department of Health director Dr Makgabo Manamela, and former MEC of Gauteng Health Qedani Mahlangu.
Healing ceremony
Saturday, 26 November was the day of the healing ceremony, organised by the Life Esidimeni family committee, the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (Sadag) and hosted by the Holocaust and Genocide Centre. It was a grey day, reflecting the mood of the occasion, presided over by a pastor who opened with prayer and a spiritual song meant to bring comfort and healing to the families.
The choice of venue was itself significant in that the deaths and neglect of mental healthcare users in such large numbers is one of the blights on our country’s history, particularly such a vulnerable sector of the population that looks to society for protection.
In the Holocaust and Genocide Centre, a particularly haunting quote by Holocaust survivor and Nobel Peace Prize recipient Elie Wiesel reads: “For the dead and the living, we must bear witness.” This clearly declared the purpose of not only the day, but the whole seven-year process of seeking justice for the lost lives of the deceased as well as the acknowledgement ...