Esidimeni: those responsible must be personally accountable

Issued by Mmusi Maimane – Leader of the Democratic Alliance
21 Mar 2018 in News

The following address was delivered by the Leader of the Democratic Alliance, Mmusi Maimane, at Talisman Foundation in Johannesburg today. The Leader unveiled a plaque to commemorate the hundreds of mentally ill South Africans who lost their lives at the hands of the ANC government in Gauteng. 

Today we pause to celebrate the inalienable Human Rights of all our people. On this day we commemorate the Sharpeville Massacre, where South Africans in pursuit of the basic rights and respect that should be afforded to all citizens, were instead killed by a callous, brutal government.

Never again can we allow that people’s rights are trampled by a callous government.

Our rights-based democracy requires that we protect every other person’s rights. That way, all of our rights are protected in an interlocking and reinforcing web of mutual protection.

Each of our 57 million people is guaranteed the same rights and the same protection from suffering and abuse.

But it is those who are often unable to claim these rights for themselves – the very young, the very old, the poor, the frail, the sick and the disabled – to whom we owe our protection as a society.

The 144 mental healthcare patients who lost their lives under exceptionally cruel circumstances in the Esidimeni Life tragedy were counting on others to look out for them. They were entitled to the same human rights as all of us, and they were told that their government had this covered.

We all know today they were lied to. Shipped off to ill-prepared, underfunded and understaffed facilities, they were simply left to die.

Aaron Motsoaledi has said that the death of these patients is a crime reminiscent of apartheid. He is right.

This week’s arbitration report by former deputy chief justice Dikgang Moseneke, in which he awarded R1.2 million to each of the claimants, is a welcome step towards justice in this issue. But there is no closure yet.

For as long as the individuals who were responsible for this crime against some of Gauteng’s most vulnerable citizens remain in their jobs and not in a courtroom, the families of the victims will never have full closure.

And we know exactly who these individuals are. The Moseneke Report goes into great detail setting out the roles of former health MEC Qedani Mahlangu, former Department of Health HOD Dr Barney Selebano and former Director of Mental Health Dr Makgabo Manamela in this tragedy.

There must be accountability for these people. They should not be appearing in fun-walks next to President Ramaphosa. They should be in prison.

Judge Moseneke states very clearly in his report that the ball is now in SAPS’s court to investigate speedily and institute the necessary criminal charges. This is the only way true justice will be served.

The total amount awarded exceeds R200 million, if you include the cost of a monument which the Gauteng government has been ordered to erect. While no amount of money can possibly compensate for the loss of loved ones, this is a vast improvement on the paltry R200,000 originally offered by the Gauteng provincial government.

But when only the public are made to pay for the crimes of those in government, this amount could be a million or a billion and it would make no difference to the perpetrators. True justice involves accountability. And this means personal repercussions for the guilty parties.

The very first step should be to fire the guilty from their jobs in government. Ideally they would have done the right thing and stepped down, but if we have learnt one thing from this ANC government it’s that shame and remorse very seldom guide their actions.

Following this, there must be some kind of personal, symbolic contribution to the awarded amount from their own pockets. That’s what accountability would look like.

But these three people are not the only ones who must face consequences. As the Premier of this Province rightly pointed out, the buck ultimately stops with him.

In Premier Makhura’s own words: “As the head of government in the province I have taken full responsibility and accountability for this tragic loss of life of our fellow citizens. I cannot pass the buck. I am the premier of this province. The buck stops with me.”

But what do those words actually mean? Surely “full responsibility” means an acceptance of any consequences. And in this case, where 144 innocent people lost their lives and dozens more are still unaccounted for, anyone who accepts full responsibility cannot remain in their job.

This is why the DA has called for a Motion of No Confidence in Premier Makhura. If he can’t do the honourable thing and resign, then the members of the Gauteng legislature must do it for him.

This is the ANC in Gauteng’s opportunity to show that “full responsibility” means just that. Because the families of the Esidimeni victims deserve a lot better than empty platitudes from those who brought about this tragedy.

Fellow South Africans,

Part of the purpose of Human Rights Day is for us to avoid repeating history. To look back on the terrible injustices of the past and to remind ourselves of our important responsibility to ensure that these injustices never, ever happen again.

Our country has a painful history, and we should be more aware and more protective than most of our precious Human Rights. That’s what makes the Esidimeni tragedy so painful to accept.

We have been through way too much, and we should have learnt our lessons about the sanctity of life and a government’s role in protecting it. It is shameful that this was allowed to happen at the hands of government in our modern-day democracy. We now owe it to everyone who lost a loved one in this tragedy to ensure that justice is done, and done swiftly.

Rights are not subject to majority whims. Some powerful people don’t have more rights than any other people simply because they are in power. That’s not how rights work. Everyone is equally protected, and we all must devote ourselves to the protection of others’ rights.

We must recommit ourselves to protecting the rights of those who are the most vulnerable: The rights of people living with albinism are trampled upon daily. The rights of children learning in horrendous circumstances. The rights of the women who earn far less than their male counterparts. The rights of the elderly made to queue for hours for basic healthcare. The rights of all South Africans to safety, living in a dangerously violent country.

Thank you.