TIMELINE | Life Esidimeni tragedy from 2012 up to this week's NPA inquest

19 July 2021 - 16:36
Retired deputy chief justice Dikgang Moseneke, who chaired arbitration hearings between the state and families of Life Esidimeni victims. File photo.
Retired deputy chief justice Dikgang Moseneke, who chaired arbitration hearings between the state and families of Life Esidimeni victims. File photo.
Image: Alon Skuy

The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) on Monday started a formal inquiry in the Pretoria high court into the deaths of the 144 Life Esidimeni psychiatric patients.

Here is a timeline of the events that led to the deaths of 144 mentally ill patients:


The Gauteng department of health announces it intends to cut the number of beds at the Life Esidimeni Hospital to 40% of available beds.


The department realises that the number of chronic patients requiring full-time care is increasing and that there are few NGOs that provide such services.


The department pays R323m for the Life Esidimeni contract — 1% of its annual budget of R31.5bn.

June 2015

The SA Society of Psychiatrists, or Sasop, warns the department about the likely consequences of terminating the Life Esidimeni contract, predicting the negative outcomes including loss of lives.

October 2015

Health MEC Qedani Mahlangu announces the termination of the Life Esidimeni contract.

November 2015

Sasop, the SA Depression and Anxiety Group, the SA Federation for Mental Health and families engage with the department over concerns about moving the patients and ask that the process be slowed down.

December 2015

Families and NGOs launch a court case against the department to stop the process but reach an agreement with the department committing to consult the parties to ensure the process is safe and in the best interests of the patients.

February 2016

The department announces an extension of the Life Esidimeni contract, with care for all patients ending by June 2016.

March 2016

Court rules in the department’s favour to move 54 patients with “severe intellectual disability”, “hypersexuality” and “psychosis” to the Takalani Home.

April-June 2016

Almost 1,400 psychiatric patients are moved out of Life Esidimeni to NGOs, state mental health facilities or their homes.

August 2016

Christine Nxumalo finds out about the death of her sister, Virginia Machpelah, who had been moved without her knowledge to the Precious Angels NGO. She discovered after a trip to the funeral home that eight others from the same NGO had died. Many more patients die as they are moved to NGOs.

September 2016

Mahlangu announces, in response to a question in parliament, that 36 former residents of Life Esidimeni have died since their move (actually, 77 were dead). Days later, health minister Aaron Motsoaledi announces the health ombud will investigate the deaths. Police are asked to conduct inquests into all the deaths.

February 2017

The health ombud’s report is released with scathing findings against Mahlangu and two senior officials in the department. The report finds that at least 94 patients died. Mahlangu resigns on the eve of the release of the report. Her two subordinates will face disciplinary action.

March 2018

Justice Dikgang Moseneke reads out a scathing indictment and orders that the state pay different costs and damages to the families of deceased mental healthcare users. He orders the state to:

  • pay claimants R180,000 for psychological injury and trauma;
  • pay claimants R20,000 towards funeral costs;
  • erect a memorial for the victims of the Life Esidimeni Marathon Project; and
  • pay for counselling for up to three family members of the deceased.

He also orders the state to pay R1m in constitutional damages to each claimant for the gross violations of various rights.

June-July 2018

Compensation is paid to affected families.

December 2018

Mahlangu, who was at the centre of the report, is instructed to step down from “participating” in the Gauteng ANC provincial executive committee.

May 2021

Sunday Times reports that Mahlangu is likely to make a political comeback after an ANC PEC decision to invite her back into the structure, as the ANC's step-aside rule affects only those who have been criminally charged.

July 19 2021

The NPA begins a formal inquest into the tragedy.