We’ll not rest until justice is delivered for every Esidimeni victim – Mmusi Maimane

DA leader says one of most horrifying aspects of tragedy is we may never know the real number of victims

We’ll not rest until justice is delivered for every Esidimeni victim

24 January 2019

Fellow South Africans

What happened to the patients of Life Esidimeni is surely one of the most callous and heartless acts of cruelty a government could possibly inflict on its people.

1700 mental health patients shipped off without notice, without permission and without a plan to unlicensed NGO’s where many of them were left to suffer and die from starvation, dehydration, negligence and lack of medical supplies. It is unimaginable that this could happen in our democracy, and yet it did.

The death toll is recorded as 144, but one of the most horrifying aspects of this tragedy is that we may never know the real number. Of the 62 people for whom we opened missing persons cases last year, 21 are still unaccounted for.

We need to know.

As a country, we need to know what happened to each and every patient placed in the care of the Gauteng Provincial government. And we need to know that the people responsible for this terrible injustice will face the law and suffer consequences.

But more importantly, the families of the deceased and missing patients need closure. Every day that goes by without full disclosure, without justice in court and without compensation for their loss is another day that they must live through this hell.

If the government that did this to them cannot deliver this justice and this compensation of its own accord, then we will compel them to do so. We will not rest until it is done.

If the government that did this cannot honour the memories of the men and women who died cruel deaths while in their care, then we will make sure they are remembered – individually, by name. Because that’s who they were – men and women with friends and families.

That was our intention in placing their names, along with the names of other victims of government cruelty at Marikana and in pit latrines at schools, on a billboard here in Johannesburg.

Now, I know there has been much debate around our decision to print these names. It was not a decision we rushed into or took lightly. We discussed it at great length and decided to go ahead because the ultimate goal – justice and closure – was too important to compromise on.

But I also know that this decision may have re-opened wounds of the victims’ loved ones, and for that I apologise. I can only imagine how distressing the past three years must have been for them, and it was never our intention to add to this distress.

Our intention always was, and still is, to seek justice for their relatives – not as a nameless collective, but as individuals who deserve the dignity of full remembrance.

By giving names to these people, we want to ensure that they are never swept away and forgotten by history.

That is why we wanted to meet with the families face-to-face this week – to acknowledge what they have been going through and to commit to helping them seek justice – before making any further statements in the media.

We have, with us today, some of the family members who would like to share their own personal stories. I want to thank them for being here. This cannot be easy for them, but it is important that we hear first-hand about their loved ones and the unspeakable trauma they went through.

As you will shortly hear, this trauma included, for one family, only learning of their son’s death after he had already been buried without their consent.

It is through these stories that we get to understand not only the full extent of this tragedy, but also get a glimpse of the children, brothers, sisters and friends they lost. Not numbers in a news report, but real people.

I also want to assure you that we will not be intimidated and obstructed by the ANC government in our efforts to seek justice. We will not allow them to silence us by diverting attention away from their role in these deaths.

We will not allow those ultimately responsible for the deaths and disappearances – people like Premier David Makhura and former Health MEC Qedani Mahlangu – to dodge their responsibilities and evade the law. As Makhura said, the buck stops with him. We will see that it does.

We will not rest until the remaining 1000 patients of the 1700 who were originally moved have been tracked down and compensated.

That is my promise to you today.

I would like to now hand over to relatives the victims to tell us some of their stories. With me on stage is Lindiwe Tshabalala as well as a representative from the Moloi family.

Issued by Mmusi Maimane, Leader of the Democratic Alliance, 24 January 2019