The Portfolio Committee on Justice and Correctional Services today received a background briefing on the Life Esidimeni matter from the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC).

Committee Chairperson, Dr Mathole Motshekga, said the Committee had a specific interest in the matter as during the interview process for Commissions to serve on the SAHRC during the latter part of last year, objections were raised by the public against the re-appointment of certain Commissioners because of slow or inaction on this matter.

Dr Motshekga said it must, however, be clearly noted that the majority of the current Commissioners are new and only assumed their roles on 3 January 2017. "This must be kept in mind although the Commission is not new."

Prof Bongani Majola, the Chairperson as the Committee, gave the Committee a report on the sequence of events since the SAHRC became aware of the plight of the mental health patients in Gauteng in March 2016. He expressed sadness and regret for the loss of life and the manner in which the SAHRC handled the matter. He said several letters had been written to the Gauteng Department of Health and the MEC for Health in the province for clarity and to inform them on the matter and an inspection of some sites were also done. As several court orders and interdicts were already in place, they left little space within which the SAHRC could operate aside from monitoring the situation.

Prof Majola said since the findings of the Health Ombudsman were made public, the SAHRC had decided to go on a broader campaign to get a bigger view on the situation throughout the country. "We will also continue to look at the Gauteng Department of Health and make a finding. The Commission will continue to monitor the Esidimeni matter."

Dr Motshekga commended the current Commissioners for working as a collective to try and get to the bottom of the tragedy. The Committee made it clear that redress in assisting families as well as creating awareness on the human rights of people living with disabilities, especially those experiencing mental health challenges, must be promoted. This will further ensure that a repetition of this tragedy does not occur.

Source: Parliament of the Republic of South Africa