WATCH: Esidimeni families to testify at arbitration hearings



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JOHANNESBURG - The families of the victims of the Life Esidimeni tragedy are a step closer to finding out what led to the death of their loved ones.

The arbitration process between the state and the families of Gauteng psychiatric patients, initiated following recommendations by the health ombudsman, will start on Monday.

This follows the death of more than a hundred patients last year, after they were moved from Life Esidimeni centres to NGO's.

The process is scheduled to run for three weeks.

Until June last year, about 2,000 psychiatric patients in Gauteng were housed in Life Esidimeni facilities, at which point the provincial health department cancelled the R138-million-a-year contract, citing costs.

Patients were moved quietly and swiftly to NGOs, but not long after the transfers, there were complaints of patients being housed in ill-equipped and dodgy facilities.

An investigation by eNCA's current affairs programme, Checkpoint shed light on the transfers.

Soon after the program aired, it came to light that 36 patients had died after they'd been moved. Furious family members demanded answers.

Many families also took issue with the fact that they were never consulted and some of their loved ones were moved to places far from home.

Former Gauteng Health Spokesperson Steve Mabona said, "We have started interacting with families, to allay fears. No one is getting lost in the system."

But the relatives dispute that any interaction has taken place.

"From the get-go, there has been no communication from the department other than scheduling a whole lot of interviews and telling the public what they should be telling us. The department hasn’t done anything, they haven’t helped the 37 families bury their loved ones, it hasn’t spoken to me," said relative Christine Nxumalo.

Government has since admitted to its role in the tragedy and offered a public apology.

READ: Independent tribunal appointed to investigate psychiatric patients' deaths

Former Gauteng Health MEC Qedani Mahlangu said, "We were paying about R10,000 per patient per month, and that was unsustainable"

In September Health Minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi called for a probe.

Health ombudsman Malegapuru Makgoba's findings on what happened shocked the nation. 

"A total 94 patients and not 36 mentally ill patients have died during this process. 94, not 60, not 80, not 87 or whatever you read in the Sowetan, was wrong. It’s 94, and I call it a provisional number," said Makgoba.

He found that patients had been put under the care of 27 NGOs operating with invalid licenses.

"In some of these places there was no food, there was no water, there was no warmth in the winter of 2016. How can you preserve life of such people?" he asked.

Mahlangu resigned in the wake of the report's release, further angering families. To date, the official death toll from this saga stands at over 110.

Arbitration between the families and the state is set to get under way on Monday.


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