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World

AFP
February 9, 2018

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S Africa to compensate families of mentally-ill patients

JOHANNESBURG: The South African government will compensate the families of more than 100 mentally-ill patients who died from neglect after they were moved from hospital and placed into unlicenced health facilities.

At least 144 psychiatric patients died from hunger and lack of care within months in 2016, according to a damning report by the country’s health watchdog. An agreement was reached between the families and the government to pay out $16,500 for emotional trauma, psychological injury and funeral expenses, lawyer for the victims Adila Hassim told a hearing into the deaths.

"An agreement has been reached ... with an amount of 200,000 rand for each family," said Hassim, but the deal does not cover the "constitutional damages" suffered. Provincial government officials justified the transfer of the patients saying they were under pressure to cut down on expenditure.

Last month the Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi broke down as he apologised for what he described as "one of the most painful and horrible events in the history of post-apartheid South Africa".

He said patients were "bundled into vans and tied with sheets and ... were chosen ... like cattle at an auction". The emotional and psychological trauma families suffered is "extremely unbearable and even impossible to quantify," he added.

In emotional testimonies family members recounted how their relatives were handled at the centres. Sandra de Villiers said her brother Jaco Stolts had been "sacrificed". "Not even an animal would be treated like this’" de Villiers told the hearing, which started last October.

The former provincial minister for Gauteng, Qedani Mahlangu who was forced to resign over the scandal said she "never received information that the project may present a danger to the lives of the patients", drawing the rage of families and arbitrators.

"What were these officials smoking? They were taking their salaries every month and they never raised a finger to protect those mental care users," said Dikgang Moseneke, a former constitutional court judge who is presiding over the hearings. The victims lawyers were on Thursday making their final submissions while a probe into the criminality of the case is already underway.

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