Esidimeni a good place for Cyril to start sweeping – world now watching

By Alec Hogg

The scale of Cyril Ramaphosa’s challenge is evident in the story leading the Middle East and Africa section in The Economist this week. Headlined “Failed by the state”, it unpacks the Life Esidimeni debacle where 143 mentally ill patients died “of thirst, hunger and other sorts of neglect” after SA’s health authorities moved them out of a private sector hospital to unregistered operators.

This piece highlights the painful death of Deborah Phehla (46) who “died alone, locked up in an outbuilding where she choked on her own blood. An autopsy found her stomach contained two lumps of hard plastic and balls of brown paper……She was starving…..She ate whatever was in the room.”

What really shocks the editors of this globally influential magazine is “these were deaths foretold”. After the idea was hatched, doctors, families and patient advocacy groups pleaded with the government officials to stop it. But they refused to listen. Worse, the officials simply ignored a court finding ordering them not to move the patients.

The Economist concludes: “Parts of the state have been so hollowed out by cronyism and corruption that they fail woefully to look after its most vulnerable people.” The Ramaphosa-led ANC can start sweeping clean by bringing to account those responsible for Esidimeni. So far, officials have simply shifted blame while the former MEC for Health, Qedani Mahlangu, resigned and is now “too busy” to testify as she is now studying in the UK. Maybe a murder charge will attract her attention?

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