South Africa shocked by deaths of 144 psychiatric patients

During a regular visit, Sophie Mangena was shocked to find that her mother with dementia had been transferred from the psychiatric facility without so much as a phone call to the family, and the nurse on duty didn’t know exactly where she was.

Desperate for information, the daughter heard from a security guard that her mother might have been taken to Takalani, a little-known facility in Johannesburg’s Soweto township. When the family finally found their mother, the 56-year-old matriarch had lost so much weight she was barely recognizable. Shivering and hungry, she was in dirty clothes and barefoot. Days later, she died.

Mangena was one of at least 144 psychiatric patients who died after South Africa’s Gauteng provincial government hastily transferred 1,711 state-funded psychiatric patients in 2015 and 2016 from Life Esidimeni, a private health care provider, to other facilities, dozens of which were not properly licensed.

The death toll is expected to be higher: Two years later, the whereabouts of 44 patients are still unknown.

The experience is “a terrible tale of death and torture of mental health care users,” ruled former Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke, who last week issued a report awarding Mangena’s family and 134 other relatives of victims $101,000 each.

The deaths of 144 psychiatric patients in South Africa as the result of gross mistreatment have shocked the country. (Associated Press)

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