A witness has told the Life Esidimeni arbitration into the botched transfer of mentally ill patients in Gauteng that families of patients were told that their loved ones were being moved to institutions which were comparable to five-star hotels.

At least 143 patients died, largely due to starvation and severe neglect at ill-equipped and often unlicenced NGOs, while a further 59 are still unaccounted for.

Nompilo Nkosi, whose brother survived after the botched relocation of more than 2,000 patients to the NGOs, testified on Friday about how families tried to warn the provincial department of health about the move.

Her brother Sizwe has autism and has been institutionalised since he was 11. He is now 31.

“On May 2016, we were told Sizwe would be moved to Cullinan Care and Rehabilitation Centre (CCRC). We were told that it was like a five-star hotel.”

Nkosi explained that she went to CCRC after ten days and found her brother in an appalling condition.

“He was frail and had an unpleasant smell. He looked as though he hadn’t taken a bath since he arrived there.”

After that, Nkosi sent the national Minister of Health Dr Aaron Motsoaledi an email informing him about the living conditions at CCRC.

“I then received a letter of response from CCRC acknowledging my concerns and said they would try to fix the issues I was complaining about,” she said.

Retired Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke, who is chairing the hearings, asked Nkosi if things got better after that.

“Things never got better. After I received the letter of acknowledgement from CCRC, Sizwe got worse, he deteriorated,” she replied.

Nkosi said she and other families engaged the provincial department of health about their concerns and Dr Makgabo Manamela, the now suspended general of mental health services in Gauteng, knew about their grievances.

“We were told that if we don’t like where our loved ones were being moved to, we are welcome to take them home and look after them,” she said.

She said former Gauteng MEC of Health Cedani Mahlangu had during one of the meetings reassured families that the transfers would go smoothly.

When dealing with the faltering transfer of patients, Nkosi said Mahlangu displayed no remorse to relatives.

Nkosi said she was confronted between choosing between her brother’s life and her own. As a result, she stopped working so that she could attend all meetings with family committees and the department of health.

She went into detail of how they marched three times to the department of health to hand over memoranda. She said Mahlangu already knew by then that people were dying in the NGO facilities.

Moseneke asked Nkosi what they wanted to see happening after the arbitration.

“We are looking for justice, we would like to see those who are responsible for this to be held accountable properly, go to jail,” she replied.

When asked if she does not accept Manamela’s explanation that this was human error, she replied: “No, I don’t, this was pure negligence.”

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