An online memorial website and advocacy campaign looks to give families a platform to share their stories in full

Remembering the 144 lives lost through pictures and testimonies, to say ‘never again’. The digital project will not only be about remembering, but also about giving others a platform to share their experiences with mental health in the South African context.

The launch of the online portal took place on Thursday, May 20 with guest speakers from Section27, South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG), South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) and bereaved family members of the 144 mentally ill patients who died in 2016.

The website lists services such as helplines and SMS services, where people can access information and support for their mental health needs, as well as report any mistreatment received at hospitals and clinics nationwide. Trained counselling services from SADAG are also listed to assist those looking for help.

At the online launch, Cassey Chamber the operations director at SADAG said, “We have to remember Life Esidimeni. We have to remember the stories of these people; we have to share the journey of the mental health system and we have to continue talking about the failed mental health system that continues to fail people every single day – we have to talk about it and continue talking about it until someone listens.”

The spokesperson of the Life Esidimeni committee, Christine Nxumalo, says the project has meant the world to the families, who were happy to be a part of the process as it is important to keep their loved one’s tragic ordeal from happening again.

Details of the Life Esidimeni inquest were also on the agenda, as it is due to start in a few weeks. On July 19, 2021, in the North Gauteng High Court, Judge Mmonoa Teffo will start hearing the case, which will be streamed online for the public to follow.

Sasha Steveson of Section27 says a lot of interrogation has taken place and through the inquest, and three stages of accountability need to be achieved.

Firstly, state accountability achieved through arbitration. Secondly, professional accountability from the health care workers who were involved, which has been a struggle as no disciplinary processes have taken place, Stevenson explained.

Thirdly for criminal accountability, through the upcoming inquest, “This is an opportunity for a judge to look at all the evidence and make an indication on whether prosecution should follow,” said Stevenson.

So far Section27 has been asked by 35 families to be represented in the inquest, however, more can and might come forward as the inquest unfolds.

FEATURE IMAGE: A student browsing through the Life Esidimeni website. Photo: Natasha Joos