DA calls for commission of inquiry into Esidimeni deaths
DA leader Mmusi Maimane has called on President Jacob Zuma to establish a commission of inquiry into the Esidimeni tragedy which claimed the lives of over 100 people in mental health facilities in Gauteng.
Addressing a media conference in Parliament on Thursday‚ Maimane said he had written to Zuma to call on him to establish a judicial commission of inquiry into the deaths - as he had done following the 34 deaths at Marikana.
The death toll‚ initially set at 94‚ has been revised to over 100 and could continue to rise as more information is gathered.
He said the inquiry should look into "exactly what transpired‚ how it was allowed to transpire‚ what national government's role was and ought to have been and to identify short comings in the current system" so as to avoid a similar "catastrophe in the future".
DA spokesman on health Wilmot James said that while the health ombudsman's report was good and comprehensive‚ there were several questions that it did not have the mandate to investigate like why Gauteng health MEC Qedani Mahlangu had made the decision to move the patients from the Life Healthcare Esidimeni facility to 27 NGOs‚ apparently in a bid to save money‚ when the budget for mental healthcare had indeed been significantly under-spent.
He said the role of the national health department‚ Minister Aaron Motsoaledi and the "chronic collapse of communication" in his office also needed to be probed.
Maimane said that while mental health care was a provincial competency‚ it was the national department which had made the decision to place patients at Esidimeni.
He said it had also emerged that several NGOs had started to take legal action to stop the patients from Esidimeni in December 2015‚ but had been persuaded to abandon the legal route by the department's director general Malebona Matsoso.
"Many questions remain unanswered and int he name of justice for the deceased and their loved ones‚ we implore the president to establish a judicial inquiry without delay. If Marikana warranted a judicial commisison of inquiry-which it rightly did- then Esidimeni does too" Maimane said.
James said that the ombudsman's report suggested that the matter be handed over to the police and the Hawks which would mean that inquests into each death‚ conducted by a magistrate‚ would need to occur.
This‚ he said‚ would mean that bodies may need to be exhumed as it was not clear if post-mortems had been performed in all of the cases.
He added that because this was a public process‚ the families of the deceased would require proper support‚ including counseling.
James said one of the failures in the South African system was that the Office for Health Standards Compliance‚ which monitored health facilities including mental health facilities‚ did not have any inspection powers for NGOs..
"There is no active surveillance in terms of compliance at NGOs" he said.