Life Esidimeni & the slaughter of innocents.


Article: by Moemedi Kepadisa

 Photo:  Photo:  Alisdare Hickson (Oxford)

(Kepadisa ponders on the fact that so many sat by while knowing what was happening at Life Esidimeni and asks if Black Lives Matter in South Africa)

Some things are just mind numbing. Like the Life Esidimeni  deaths of more than 100 mentally ill patients. Words failed me to say anything about this for the past month since this scandalous issue came to the fore. I could not say anything about it, because it was beyond my comprehension.

Despite all the explanations by the experts that I listened to, it still does not make sense to me. 100? How is it possible that so many mentally ill patients can die just like that, within a 3 month period in our own country? This country that prides itself on having a most liberal constitution, an open democracy, transparent budget, and, and, and 2010…

This is like industrial murder to me. It is as if the poor patients were herded into a slaughterhouse and their lives were ended. Just like that.

Arrogance is a dangerous and poisonous thing. It consumed Qedani Mahlangu, the former MEC of Health who has got blood on her hands for this sordid saga. When the number was still 36, I remember vividly her arrogant interview with Nkepile Mabuse on eNCA. It was around October or November thereabouts. She could have listened then and minimised the casualties. She did not.

In the wake of this painful aftermath, there emerged the picture of a leader to whom the unbridled use of power, arrogance, was the only logic of leadership. We saw it in email correspondence with leaders of other entities, which she had to oversee. Rude, commandeering emails to professionals and adults older than her. She behaved like someone who was too drunk with power.

This was the perfect storm for the making of the tragedy of Life-Esidimeni. Of this word that will become such an oxymoron of our post 1994 political lexicon. There was no life and there was no dignity in the manner in which these most vulnerable members of our society were treated.

The desperate desire to get rich. To grease the palms of your benefactors, corruption, I will hazard, is what caused this wrongful decision.

We must stop and pause as a nation, and ask whether this individual pursuit of wealth, does not lie at the base of our national maladies. We must answer the question whether it will get us to be a truly united, equal and prosperous society. Whether, it is in fact, not our Frankenstein monster, that will in the end consume us all.

The Premier of Gauteng, David Makhura is a comrade and friend I have known and worked closely with from our days of student activism. In fact we shared the same room for about three weeks when we were on an international tour. We got to know each other better when we shared laughter, ideas and anxieties about our nascent democracy in 1995. As fate would have it, we both suffered the ignominy of our bags being stolen in the room we stayed in, in the land of the so-called free.

We were from rival student political formations, but there were many points of converge in some of our programmes, between the movements we led. I have admired his service and dedication to his organisation and to our people, in the union movement, later in politics and now in government.

Many of our generation were proud that he has steered clear of all the corruption and scandals in the ruling party. Even as leader of the Gauteng Province, he had done well to act swiftly against those in his team who were implicated in stealing from or misusing the public purse. His star was rising, and we had nothing but admiration for his work.

It is sad that this #LifeEsidimeni scandal is threatening to erase all of his good deeds. His political detractors are calling for his head. I wonder if he could have done more to avoid this tragic incident. Only he and his conscience knows.

One of the tried and tested pearls of African wisdom on leadership is that, “Kgosi thuthubudu e olela matlakala”. A leader takes responsibility for what has gone wrong.

What is indisputable is that, this was an unnecessary loss of life. Our democracy should do more to protect and bring dignity to Black life. For a long time Black life was treated with contempt as if we were disposable bodies under apartheid. Our people had the fervent hope that democracy will end all this inhumane treatment.

Life Esidimeni thus cuts another deep wound on a sore that was slowly closing. It reminds us of our sad past memories, and makes our people doubt the value of democracy and worth of the sacrifices that Biko, Tiro, Sobukwe, Mma Kgware and Mma September made.

It is often said, you can judge the level of a society’s development by the manner in which it treats its most vulnerable. Life Esidimeni has revealed in the most stark and true ways, how slowly we are drifting away from the vision of our national liberation struggle. How we have abandoned the values of BOTHO that have always defined and made us resilient as Africans.

In that sense, we are all complicit in this tragedy. The churches that chose to be quiet when the number was still 36. The unions that did not bring this issue to the fore when their members were helping to move these patients. The politicians who did not ask probing questions as this was unfolding.

Yes, Qedani Mahlangu signed off on this dreadful arrangement, but many of us knew it was happening. But we did nothing to stop her. We are all guilty.

Photo:  Alisdare Hickson