It’s been five years since 144 mental health patients, who were recklessly moved from the Life Esidimeni facility to unprepared NGOs, passed away. No one has been held accountable or criminally charged; the families of the deceased still cry in bereavement and seek closure. This week an inquest into the tragedy began and put the department of health in the spotlight for its role in the patients’ deaths. It was revealed that clinicians at the Life Esidimeni facility warned the health department that moving the patients – as part of a cost-cutting exercise – could be fatal to them.
But the department failed to heed the warnings, saying it was under “political pressure” to carry out its tasks as government officials. Doctors at the facility, however, accused officials of intimidating them when they spoke out against moving the patients. The consequences were inevitable, they said, especially since most NGOs were ill-equipped to care for mentally ill people. A tragedy like Life Esidimeni could have easily been missed were it not for our stellar investigative reporters. The inquest, which is ongoing, will also ensure the dirty details are aired and – hopefully – hold the right people accountable. As always, we’re grateful for a country where things like this aren’t swept under the carpet and forgotten. It’s taken a while to get the inquest started, but it’s important to get closure – and justice.