Psychiatric expert, Professor Chris Grobler from the Walter Sisulu University says the 1 700  mentally-ill patients should not have been unilaterally moved from Life Esidimeni facilities to NGOs without their consent. Grobler says while some patients may not have been in a position to make sound decisions, some would have been able to express their wishes on whether or not they wanted to be moved.

Grobler has challenged the assertion by former Gauteng Health MEC Qedani Mahlangu and senior departmental officials that they did not have the foresight that people might die.

He has been testifying at the arbitration hearings in Johannesburg.

“Firstly you must approach the person with respect. You must not accept that this person does not have the capacity to concert. You must go from the premise that doctor this person will probably have the capacity to concert.  Then you’ve have to make sure that the person understands the concept with which he or she is being confronted.  There shouldn’t be any manipulation or cohesion involved in this process. So for these patients it would have made sense for me that they should have been approached and asked, some of them at least, ” he said.

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The number of mentally-ill patients who died after being moved from Life Esidimeni to NGOs now stands at 144. That’s according to the police who provided an update through a written statement on their investigation.

Police have established a unit to focus on pursuing police criminal charges against those implicated in the tragedy. They say the investigations are at an advanced stage.

To date the investigating team can account for 144 deaths, a total of 45 inquest dockets, and 99 inquiry files. Inquiry files were registered for bodies that were already buried when the investigating team was established. The matter was discussed with the National Prosecuting Authority and the investigating team was advised to await the finalisation of the arbitration proceedings to obtain the entire transcripts, audio and video recordings.

Meanwhile, Gauteng Finance MEC Barbara Creecy is expected to testify at the Life Esidimeni hearings next week. Creecy is expected to give details about budget allocations for mental health.

It emerged during the testimonies by former Gauteng Health MEC Qedani Mahlangu and senior department officials that the reason to terminate its long-standing contract with Life Esidimeni was to cut costs.