Shock at the death of 94 mental health patients
27 February 2017
The Centre for Human Rights, Faculty of Law, University of Pretoria, is shocked and horrified at the death of 94 mental health patients in Gauteng and calls for immediate action to protect persons with mental disabilities under South African and international law. The Centre for Human Rights, Faculty of Law, University of Pretoria is shocked and horrified at the findings of the Health Ombudsman, Professor Malegapuru Makgoba, following an investigation into the circumstances in which more than 94 persons with mental disabilities died between 23 March and 19 December 2016 in Gauteng Province.
The Centre strongly condemns the high-level decision, to rapidly and hurriedly implement and execute a poorly planned deinstitutionalisation programme with disastrous consequences, taken by the Gauteng MEC for Health, Qedani Mahlangu, Head of Department, Dr Tiego Selebano and Director Dr Makgabo Manamela. The decision to remove persons with mental disabilities from government health institutions to reduce spending on their healthcare and the manner it was conducted was cruel and inhumane and occasioned the deaths of 94 persons with mental disabilities. Not only was the decision grossly negligent, unwise and rushed, it also contravened the National Health Act (Act 61 of 2003), the Mental Health Care Act (Act 17 of 2002) and infringed on the rights of the persons with mental disabilities and their family’s human rights contained in the Constitution of South Africa.
The decision caused international embarrassment to South Africa as a state party to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (the Convention). South Africa was actively involved in drafting the Convention. It ratified the Convention and its Optional Protocol in 2007, with no reservations. The ratification affirmed the country’s strong support for and commitment to promote and protect the rights of persons with disabilities in South Africa, it requires South Africa to fulfil its international obligations by implement the Convention.
The MEC’s deinstitutionalisation programme violated principles and obligations contained in the Convention, including the right of persons with disabilities to enjoy the highest attainable standard of health without discrimination (article 25), the right not to be subjected to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment (article 15), the right to life (article 10), the right to an adequate standard of living for themselves and their families, including adequate food, clothing and housing (article 28) and the right to live independently and to be included in the community (article 19).
The MEC, and the South African government as a state party to the Convention, have an obligation to recognise, protect and promote the human rights and fundamental freedoms persons with mental disabilities who are among the most vulnerable members in our society.
The MEC failed to take appropriate measures to ensure that the necessary community-based services and facilities were available and adequate. Instead she hastily deinstitutionalised persons with mental disabilities into unprepared NGO facilities, some of which were not licensed.
The violations that occurred are symptomatic of the wider lack of recognition of the basic human rights guaranteed to persons with disabilities in the Convention and the Constitution of South Africa for all persons with disabilities. The discrimination suffered by these persons happened because of their disability, which is a violation of their inherent dignity and worth as human beings as provided for by the Constitution of South Africa.
The Centre expresses its concern regarding the difficult and inhumane conditions in which many persons with mental disabilities still live in institutions and other placements in Gauteng Province. We call on government and in particular the Gauteng Province, to take the necessary steps to urgently monitor the situation of persons with disabilities in the different placements, and provide alternative accommodation and/or facilities and support-services where these are needed.
The Centre calls on government to take appropriate action against the MEC of Health, the Head of the Department, the relevant Director in the Gauteng Department of Health and the implicated NGOs for their unlawful actions and human rights violations. The Centre expresses its condolences to all the families of the 94 patients that have died as a result of the professional incompetence on the part of provincial and national government officials.