Tue, 20 Aug 2019

Apparent delays in compensation payments led family members of Life Esidimeni tragedy victims to stage a protest outside Gauteng Premier David Makhura's offices on Friday.

But Life Esidimeni family committee member Christine Nxumalo said the issue wasn't a delay. Instead, she said it was a "disagreement" between the families and the government.

A total of 144 psychiatric patients died after they were moved from Life Esidimeni to various unlicensed NGOs.

At the end of a marathon arbitration hearing last year, Justice Dikgang Moseneke found that the provincial health department's decision to move the psychiatric patients was "irrational and unconstitutional". He awarded survivors and families of those who had died R1m in constitutional damages and R200 000 for emotional suffering and funeral expenses.

Nxumalo explained this week that two meetings were held in December. In one of the meetings, an agreement was reached that the families would follow Master of the High Court processes before payments were made.

"A bigger meeting was held to inform the other families. They came back and I think there was a change of heart and they decided that they don't want [to go] through the Master's process," Nxumalo said.

While the government made payments to some families, those who lodged new claims are now complaining that the processes were not followed by those who had already been compensated.

However, Nxumalo, who is one of the family members who has already been paid out, said the difference between the two groups was that the first group was represented by attorneys.

"In this case (those not yet paid), [they] are being paid directly by government. So, unfortunately the only way government could ensure that things are done properly, is to do it through the Master's office and the families are just not wanting to do that," Nxumalo said.

Nxumalo said her family was represented by Section27 and was one of the first groups to receive payment.

Gauteng government spokesperson Thabo Masebe confirmed that a meeting was held with the second group of families and a process was agreed to.

Masebe said it was agreed that when families registered their claims, the government would check and verify whether their family members were indeed Life Esidimeni victims.

"Once we have done that, the next stage would be the legal process which is done by the Master of the High Court. The families would in terms of that, appoint one or more people to represent them as administrators. Once they have appointed [them], they then approach the Master of the High Court so that the Master can issue them with letters of appointment as administrators," Masebe said.

He said once that process had been done, the government would pay the funds to the account numbers provided.

Masebe said he believed that some family members were "probably experiencing frustration with the process and the delays".

He said they agreed to have another meeting next week.

"As government, we will reiterate that we remain committed to the settlement of the claims without any further delay, but we cannot choose to act outside of the law," Masebe explained.

He said while there was a promise that all payments be done by December 10, 2018, because of the process of appointing administrators, this was not possible.

"There are a few people that got paid in December and they had completed the process," he said.

Although DA MP Jack Bloom said there was a problem that an inadequate amount had been budgeted for to pay out the claimants, Masebe said there were no issues.

"We are allowed to spend money and then approach Treasury for additional allocation. So there is no problem at all," he said.

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