Life Esidimeni relatives march to Makhura and Luthuli House to demand payments
Families of victims of the Life Esidimeni tragedy are demanding that the government settle outstanding compensation.
The family members marched to the office of Gauteng Premier David Makhura on Monday and later headed to the ANC's headquarters, Luthuli House, where they met with the party's head of Presidency, Zizi Kodwa.
Kodwa assured them that by Friday, the matter would be settled "once and for all".
In 2016, 144 psychiatric patients died after the Gauteng Department of Health moved 1 700 people from Life Esidimeni homes to ill-equipped NGOs and state facilities.
The crisis happened under the tenure of disgraced former health MEC Qedani Mahlangu.
To date, 21 missing patients have not been located.
Ramokgopa said in November that the missing patients were among those discharged from Life Esidimeni facilities in 2015 and 2016. She said the department had "successfully transferred" 750 patients from those facilities to "unlicensed NGOs", but that it had struggled to find 21 of them, due to "poor record keeping".
Some of the patients were buried without the knowledge of their relatives.
In his arbitration award, former deputy chief justice Dikgang Moseneke ordered the government to pay financial compensation to 134 claimants who were affected by the tragedy.
The deadline for payment was June 19, 2018.
Moseneke ordered that survivors and families of those who had died be paid more than R1m in damages for shock, psychological trauma and emotional suffering, and funeral expenses.
Gauteng government spokesperson Thabo Masebe said more claims were registered after Moseneke made the award.
"These claims are now being subjected to a verification process in terms of the law. This includes establishing the legal status of the family members who are making the claims on behalf of mental healthcare users.
"This is important because there are cases where different people have been claiming to have legal standing to receive and be paid compensation," he said.
Masebe added that the province had undertaken steps to approach the office of the Master of the High Court to assist families to obtain letters of authority.
Mpho Padi said his uncle, Mosetlhane John Padi, died in 2006 at Masego NGO and the family has not yet been compensated.
He said they have been sent from pillar to post by officials at Makhura's office.
"We have not been paid as promised by Makhura, that by June 19, every family will be compensated. We don't only demand compensation but want all those who are implicated to be arrested. They must account for all the nonsense they did."
Olebogeng Ntaolang is demanding closure for the trauma his family suffered when his brother Pogiso Ntaolang was moved from Life Esidimeni.
"It took us over a month to finally locate him. We found my brother at Cullinan. He had been moved from one NGO to another and from one hospital to the other. He is in Pretoria, which is far from us. As families, we didn't demand to be financially compensated. We wanted all those implicated to be prosecuted.
"Today my mother's health is deteriorating. My brother told us that he was physically tortured by officials at places he had been taken to. I thought I am strong emotionally, but I am weak and need counselling from the trauma I am suffering," he said.
Collen Ndwandwe accused officials from Makhura's office of playing games with them. Two of his relatives are currently at an NGO in Roodepoort.
"They called us to a meeting over the weekend and told us that we should go to the office of the Master of the High Court for proof showing that we are indeed related to our relatives. What is sad is that we learned over the weekend that one of the survivors has died.
"We must be compensated for what happened to our loved ones. We are still waiting for payment which was promised to us," he said.
Masebe said the government had promised the families that it would complete the verification process expeditiously so that all claims could be settled by December 10, 2018.
He said this had not been possible because the government was required to ensure that the claimants were issued with letters of authority and others were appointed as administrators/curators.
"On Saturday, officials met with the affected families to explain the process. Government wishes to reassure all claimants that it remains committed to settle the claims as soon as possible, subject to all legal requirements having been complied with."
Kodwa promised to also assist the families.
"We are listening to you. We don't want anything to remind families and the country of what happened at Life Esidimeni. You are welcomed here. I will be talking to the office of the premier from today. We want closure.
"I want the matter to be addressed without delay. I am committed to speak to the premier. I will leave here to meet him. I want the matter to [be] settled once and for all," said Kodwa.