DA leader Mmusi Maimane has distanced himself from Western Cape premier Helen Zille's tweet questioning what the families of the Life Esidemeni victims had done about the situation, Eyewitness News (EWN) reported. Maimane reportedly said he does not support Zille's views on the matter.
On Monday, former deputy chief justice Dikgang Moseneke released his findings following the Life Esidimeni arbitration hearings. He ordered that each claimant should be paid R1-million in compensation for breach of the Constitution, R180,000 in general damages, and R20,000 for funeral costs.
At least 144 mentally ill patients died, many in horrific circumstances, after the Gauteng department of health moved them from Life Esidimeni facilities to NGOs, many of which were unlicensed and ill-equipped to deal with their conditions. Many patients died of starvation and neglect, the arbitration hearings heard.
In a tweet, Zille asked what the families of the victims had done to alert authorities to the problem before they died.
She came under heavy criticism for her tweet, and many people pointed out to her that the families had spoken out about what was happening to their loved ones on many occasions, but were ignored.
But Zille did not back down, and in spite of what the "outrage" on social media, she said a tragedy like Life Esidimeni would not happen in the Western Cape.
Civil society group Unite Behind's Zachie Achmat told Talk Radio 702 that he would be laying a complaint against Zille with the Human Rights Commission.
But her views are not supported by Maimane, according to EWN. He said the families needed to be supported.
"The families of those who were left behind understood the pain they went through, and when you surrender yourself to a mental health institution often you find that those families are left powerless. So, I stand with the families and say they should be supported," he told EWN.
In her regular column, published by Daily Maverick on Thursday, Zille outlined what the Western Cape had done differently when faced with the same problem faced by Gauteng.
Zille said when the Life Esidimeni tragedy became public, the Western Cape department of health looked "interrogated our systems thoroughly". "De-institutionalisation", she said, was the national policy with which her province had to comply.
De-institutionalisation was an international trend which was "not necessarily a bad thing", but if implemented badly, could result in situations like the Life Esidimeni case, Zille explained.
She said another problem was that the Mental Health Act did not require NGOs who take on mentally ill patients to be licensed.
"The Western Cape department would not 'de-institutionalise' patients into unlicensed facilities. But there are clearly many operating that way because the law does not require them to be licensed before taking people in. So the provincial department of health began a hunt for unlicensed facilities – and before long had tracked down around 200 of them, many operating in informal circumstances. That is a huge number, carrying massive potential risk, and it obviously sparked focused action and immediate intervention," she said.