The Life Esidimeni 94+’s search for restorative justice

ByAbbey Jane Hudson

The Life Esidimeni 94+’s search for restorative justice

Media statement by The Life Esidimeni Family Committee.

Today (Monday 9 October) marks the beginning of yet another painful chapter for the relatives of what have collectively been called “The Life Esidimeni 94+”.

It will be the start of a difficult, probing arbitration process led by retired Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke, into the death of more than 94 mental health patients who were supposed to be in the care of the Gauteng Provincial Government.

Hopefully, this three-week process will mark one of the last chapters of pain and horror for the families of those who died, and those who are still suffering.

But it definitely won’t be the final chapter.

The process that starts today must have real meaning. The hearings must provide information, redress and closure to the affected mental health care users and their families.

That means the final chapter can only be written once there is true restorative justice for all the relatives of those who died, and a meaningful and sincere solution to the plight of those who are still in managed care.

So what do we believe “restorative justice” represents for the Life Esidimeni 94+?

It means the arbitration should not only be just, fair, honest and focused on the needs of the victims and the offenders. It must also focus on the offenders acknowledging their role and their readiness and willingness to repair the harm they’ve done.

Restorative justice usually involves both victim and offender, and focuses on their personal needs. In addition, it provides help for the offender in order to avoid future wrongdoings.

In this case, it could very possibly mean imprisonment for those found to be guilty through the investigations currently underway.

Beyond this, though, the families of the Life Esidimeni 94+ will want to know how it will help to take away the pain and get families closer to the process of healing.

That will require corrections to the system and policies which led to this situation, and ensuring that this sort of tragedy never, ever happens again.

It will require steps to ensure that those currently in the system, and those who may find themselves in the system in future, should never go through such an experience again.

It will also require steps to ensure that neither they nor their relatives ever feel the sense of disempowerment, injustice and fear that has been experienced by the Life Esidimeni 94+ and their families.

But more importantly that Mental Healthcare Users (MHCUs) must never ever again, be treated as “undeserving” human beings due to lack of care or due to services not being made available or due to ignorance or due to stigma of the staff.

We regard the Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) process being run by former Justice Moseneke as an important mechanism to not only repair the harm that has been done, but also to fix the structural problems that the Gauteng Department of Health allowed for many years.

We hope it forces the provincial government, led by Premier David Makhura, to acknowledge their wrongdoing and to have the courage and conviction to do the right thing in future — instead of looking for cheap and inhumane ways of dealing with funding issues.

The ADR process therefore means a lot more to us than just compensation; it means that MHCUs will never be neglected again, and that the most vulnerable will ever again be treated as unimportant and less deserving of quality mental healthcare services.

For the families of those who lost loved ones, redress and corrective justice will require the following: –

  • Acknowledgement of the Gauteng Department of Health’s role in the tragedy.
  • Trauma counselling for the families.
  • Calling of our loved ones names publicly.
  • Equitable and just compensation.
  • Reburial of loved ones, for those who require it.
  • Healing sessions for the families, and a mechanism to ensure they continue to retell their stories.
  • A memorial stone or monument.

Surviving mental healthcare users and families will also expect acknowledgement of the Gauteng Department of Health’s role in the tragedy, as well as:

  • Trauma counselling for MCHUs and their families.
  • Relocation to safe facilities with proper management according to the regulations, with proper governance policies in place.
  • Fair compensation for the loss of income.
  • An opportunity to retell their experiences.

There are broader issue that need to be addressed, for the sake of all who are affected by mental health issues. They include ensuring that the Gauteng Department of Health and the Office of the Premier fundamentally improves mental healthcare services in public health facilities year on year, and actively campaigns to break the silence and the stigma around mental health in public health facilities and communities. It must also continue to create awareness and promote the rights of MHCUs – as well as ensuring safe facilities with proper management, adherence to the regulations and the development of proper governance policies.

Issued by the life Esidimeni Family committee

Contact: Christine Nxumalo

079 137 4560

  • The ADR hearings will be held from 9am on Monday 9 October at Emoyeni Conference Centre, Johannesburg. The hearings are open to the public and the media.

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