Picture: SOWETAN
Picture: SOWETAN

The government will compensate the families of more than 100 mental patients who died of neglect after they were moved from hospital to unlicensed health facilities.

At least 144 psychiatric patients died of hunger and lack of care within months of the move in 2016, according to a damning report by health ombudsman Prof Malegapuru Makgoba.

An agreement had been reached between the families and the government to pay R200,000 to each family for emotional trauma, psychological injury and funeral expenses, lawyer for the victims Adila Hassim said at the hearing on the Life Esidimeni deaths.

But Hassim said that the agreement to pay each family R200,000 the deal did not cover the “constitutional damages” suffered.

Provincial government officials attempted to justify the transfer of the patients saying they were under pressure to cut expenditure.

In January, Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi broke down as he apologised for what he described as “one of the most painful and horrible events in the history of postapartheid SA”.

He said patients were “bundled into vans and tied with sheets and … were chosen … like cattle at an auction”.

The emotional and psychological trauma families suffered was “extremely unbearable and even impossible to quantify”, Motsoaledi said.

In emotional testimonies, family members told how their relatives were handled at the facilities.

In one representation, family member Sandra de Villiers said that her brother Jaco Stolts was “sacrificed”.

“Not even an animal would be treated like this,” De Villiers said at the hearing, which started in October 2017.

Former Gauteng health MEC Qedani Mahlangu, who was forced to resign over the scandal, said she “never received information that the project may present a danger to the lives of the patients”, drawing the ire of families and arbitrators.

Trying to shift blame to senior officials in her department, Mahlangu said that she would take political responsibility but not personal responsibility for the fatal fiasco.

Former deputy chief justice Dikgang Moseneke, who is presiding over the hearing, said: “What were these officials smoking?

“They were taking their salaries every month and they never raised a finger to protect those mental-care users.”

The victims’ lawyers were making their final submissions on Thursday while a probe into the criminality of the case is already under way.