Many of the deaths occurred due to pneumonia, dehydration and diarrhoea after patients were hurriedly transferred from a private hospital to 27 poorly-prepared facilities as a cost-cutting measure
PIC: Christine Nxumalo, sister of Virginia Nxumalo, one of the mentally ill patients who died. (Credit: AFP)
JUSTICE | CRIME
SOUTH AFRICA - A judge on Monday ordered the South African government to pay $100,000 to each of the families of 144 psychiatric patients who died of neglect, as he detailed a "terrible tale of death and torture".
Many of the deaths occurred due to pneumonia, dehydration and diarrhoea after patients were hurriedly transferred from a private hospital to 27 poorly-prepared facilities as a cost-cutting measure.
More than 1,700 patients were moved out of Johannesburg's Life Healthcare Esidimeni hospital in a decision that Justice Dikgang Moseneke criticised as "irrational".
It led to a "carnage" of patients and a "total disrespect of dignity", Moseneke said in his damning ruling after weeks of arbitration hearings.
The hearings gathered evidence of horrific abuse as families told of how their loved ones were taken from the hospital, badly mistreated at unlicensed health facilities and then died.
Last month 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".
Patients were bundled into vans and tied with sheets and distributed "like cattle at an auction," said the minister.
Some provincial health officials who testified at the hearing apologised and accepted partial responsibility for the disaster.
Moseneke severely reprimanded those involved, saying that some had lied in evidence and "despite all warnings... they obstinately went ahead" with moving the patients.
"The death and torture of those who died stemmed from arrogant and irrational use of public power," he said.
A criminal probe has been launched and Moseneke said he had "furnished police with all evidence ... they must do their work."