Flag of University of Cape Town at half-mast to honour Esidimeni victims

94 mental health service users in Gauteng, South Africa died of alleged neglect after being relocated without proper care or due process from 27 illegal NGOs. 


Last week, between the third and the tenth of February 2017, the University of Cape Town (UCT) flew their flag on top of Jameson Hall at half-mast to mourn alongside the families of the 94 mentally ill patients who lost their lives. This was an indication of the University’s stance on this tragic event, and displayed solidarity with those affected.


In a press release by the University’s Communication and Marketing Department, Executive Director Ms Gerda Kruger said,


“When students at the University of Cape Town raise awareness of mental health issues, this is the reality that they are pointing to. Some see this happening at home to uncles and aunts, parents, brothers and sisters. It is a matter of neglect and poverty, stealing the dignity from the human beings that they love.”

The University has made it clear that justice should be delivered. They are urging all members of UCT and the wider community to work to prevent such a tragedy occurring again. It is vital that the leadership structures responsible for caring for the most vulnerable within society are held to account.

The tragedy has shocked South Africa, as well as the international community, and will haunt South Africa's history for a long time. Kruger added that once students return from December-January holidays, UCT will “find an appropriate way to recognize this tragic moment and to reflect deeply on the matter in the hope that one day we may return to a place where we are assured of dignity for all in society.”

Background: Where it all started

94 mental health service users in Gauteng, South Africa died of alleged neglect after being relocated without proper care and due process from the care of Life Healthcare Esidimeni. Esidimeni is a fully owned subsidiary of the Life Healthcare group, and is the largest and oldest hospital public/private partnership in South Africa. These mental health service users were among those placed into the care of various NGOs in Gauteng in March 2016.

A report was released on 1 February 2017 by the Health Ombudsman, Professor Malegapuru W Makgoba, into the deaths. A number of organizations have since showed unwavering commitment to exposing the truth such as Cape Mental Health and the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG).

According to Cape Mental Health, “the Health Ombud has found that all 27 NGOs involved in this were operating under invalid licenses and that all patients who died at these facilities did so under unlawful circumstances.”

The report, released on the 1st of February, highlighted the worrying disconnect between the national and provincial Departments of Health regarding the process of de-institutionalisation and the blatant disregard for the Mental Health Policy Framework which should be guiding mental healthcare services in South Africa. According to the report, it appears that some of the mental health care users died due to starvation, dehydration or hypothermia while in the care of some of these organizations.

Gauteng provincial leadership responds

Member of the Executive Council (MEC) for Health Qedani Mahlangu handed in her resignation in the wake of the report, and it was accepted by Gauteng Premier David Makhura who promised to improve the care of the surviving patients. He commented on the report of the Health Ombudsman in this statement.

Word from the Centre for Public Mental Health (CPMH)

“This tragedy is a direct consequence of negligence. Historically, mental illness has been neglected in South African policy, resulting in inadequate budget and resource allocations. We do have a good mental health policy framework in line with the [World Health Organisation’s] best practice.” 

- Professor Crick Lund, CPMH Director, University of Cape Town.

SADAG, the largest mental health advocacy group in the country, has been keeping tabs on this case and is looking to establish a dedicated helpline to report inadequate access to care, unfair treatment and any concerns related to mental health treatment to help prevent a tragedy like this from happening again.


Infographics by  Daily Vox

Human rights
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