Victim’s Younger Sister Speaks Out on South Africa’s “Silent Deaths” in TV Investigation

Virginia Machpelah suffered from Alzheimer’s. She was fun-loving, a good person, a fellow South African… and tragically she was also one of the 94 victims of the Gauteng Health Department’s #LifeEsidimeni blunder.

On Wednesday night her sister Christine Nxumalo said: “She loved kids and was just generally a very good person who didn’t do nothing wrong, really.

“She was my big sister.”

Christine, along with other South Africans, voiced her outrage for the needless death of her sister and the other 93+ mental health patients, on Al Jazeera’s The Stream.

In a shocking story of cost-cutting carelessness, Christine’s sister and the other victims were transferred from the Life Healthcare Esidimeni Centre in Gauteng to unregistered facilities… where they were left without trained doctors or nurses. A report found that most died from starvation, dehydration and diarrhoea.

The last time Christine saw her sister was in June 2016. She was happy and healthy at that point. In August she was told her sister had died.

Although Qedani Mahlangu, Gauteng’s health minister, resigned in the wake of a damning report into the deaths, family members of the deceased are meeting today to discuss further steps… perhaps litigation.

“Her resignation is not enough; it’s actually quite an insult to the family members… There’s no way we could let her off right now, so yes, we will be proceeding,” says Christine.

She said in principle the government strategy of de-institutionalism, in favour of moving towards community care, is a good plan… but that the #LifeEsidimeni scandal showed South Africa was not ready to implement this widely yet. She called instead for small-scale pilots that could be scaled only once they’d been proven to work.

Christine also criticised the department’s reported plan to bring costs per mental patient down to around R100 a day (around $8), saying that would never have been enough money to provide adequately for her sister.

“That’s for food, that’s for medication, that’s for the facility itself,” said Christine. “That’s impossible. Nobody can live like that.”

For her sister’s legacy, she wishes that “this will not happen again, and mental health patients will not be treated like they do not matter…” and she hopes “that no one else will die in this manner, because this was a horrific way to die and no one should ever be subjected to this, ever.”

Al Jazeera also interviewed Malegapuru Makgoba, South African Health Ombudsman, who holds grave concerns that “patients are still at risk and more patients are likely to die.

“One of my recommendations was that the provincial departments and the national department must go and remove all these patients and try and accommodate them in places that are licensed.”

Watch The Stream: South Africa’s Silent Deaths

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