By Pinky Khoabane
“Life Esidimeni (meaning a place of dignity)’ is how the website of the health facility in the news recently defines its service.
Only in South Africa perhaps do you kill 462 lives and present the notion of dignity. Actually, in our discourse you can kill that many Black lives and the South African media, depending on who you are, can overlook your murderers spree.
Dignity presents a number of meanings, none precise, but we recognise dignity when we see it. Dignity in healthcare would require that there’s mutual respect between the service provider and the patient. We all know that with dignity comes respect and there’s a sense of self-worth which must play a major role in recovery – from any illness.
If there is a group of patients who never receive dignity from both the health care providers and the public at large, it is mental health patients. We all know that mental health patients are demeaned, stigmatised and discriminated – even by the healthcare workers who are supposed to care for them.
To boldly offer a statement that dignity is what it offers, Life Esidemeni would have to do better than have on its records the deaths 462 patients who died between September 2011 and May 2016.
But perhaps more importantly, we would have to ask why Health Ombudsman Melagapuru Makgoba omitted this very important statistic. In 2012 alone, 109 patients at this suddenly “great” facility died. In 2011, 130 people died. This happened without any outrage because generally, this is how the public thinks of Black lives – many die in public hospitals and as is now proven, even in this fake place of dignity – and nobody cares.
Black lives are determined by a political and media agenda. I’ve said this over and over, miners, for example – Black – die all the time underground and as a result of toxic waste from mines – and you will not hear Sipho Pityana or most of the people who supposedly care for Black Lives utter a word. Mines send their workers back home to die….with silicosis, TB, and injuries they get in the line of duty. And they have no one to fight for them because the unions have been captured by white monopoly capitalists and some in the ruling party are shareholders in those mines.
A hundred Black lives, transferred from Life Esidemeni to NGOs in 2016 were lost – and this is tragic. In any country which values life, the uproar is warranted but we are a country where, unless there’s political mileage made, the commercial media and their handlers, couldn’t give a hoot.
Only in South Africa will you have a minister – as Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi has done – decide to return patients to a place of death. Like the health ombudsman, Motsoaledi has conveniently forgotten the 462 lives lost at Life Esidimeni.