Life Esidimeni death toll rises again

File: The death toll from the Life Esidimeni tragedy continues to rise. Photo: Gallo / Jabu Kumalo

JOHANNESBURG - The death toll in the Life Esidimeni tragedy now stands at 118.

This came to light on the first day of the three-week arbitration hearings.  

Arbitration was recommended by the health ombudsman in his report into the death of psychiatric patients last year.

Over 60 families represented in this process want to know exactly how their loved ones died.

According to lawyers representing rights group Section 27, hundreds of psychiatric patients from Life Esidimeni Centres in Gauteng were loaded onto bakkies and trucks like cattle on June 30, 2016, and dropped off at unlicensed NGOs around Gauteng.

This removal and relocation of patients ended in tragedy - and the death toll is still rising.

Section 27 said it has the names of 11 more patients who died, not included in the latest tally of 118. 

READ: Zuma orders special investigation into Esidimeni tragedy

"Could it be possible that we have 129 dead!?" a shocked head of the arbitration process, justice Dikgang Moseneke, asked on Monday. 

Many of the deceased died from starvation and negligence. Health Ombudsman Malekgapuru Makgoba, who is one of five state witnesses, described how one patient had lost so much weight, his pants had to be tied with shoelaces. 

Makgoba said many families are still looking for their missing relatives.

But, families also want former Gauteng Health MEC Qedani Mahlangu, the person who authorised the transfers, to be subpoenaed.

Some families will also testify over the three-week process. 

At the end of the hearings, Judge Moseneke will help determine a way forward, either by way of redress and/or compensation.

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