Esidimeni families kept from speaking to media

No families in the Life Esidimeni arbitration hearing or advocates can speak directly to the media without the state being given notice. 

However‚ the hearing remains open to the media and some television stations are broadcasting parts of it live.

The arbitration process is set down for three weeks and is meant to help families of the more than 118 psychiatric patients who died find closure.

The deaths occurred when more than 1 400 severely ill people were moved from Life Esidimeni institutions to ill-equipped NGOs‚ at the order of the then-Gauteng Health MEC Qedani Mahlangu.

The state‚ which came to arbitration hearings admitting responsibility for the tragedy‚ has insisted that parties follow the arbitration contract they signed. The agreement states: "The parties will provide one another reasonable notice of the content of any public statement relating to the arbitration process prior to the making of such statement.”

This means advocates from Solidarity‚ Legal Aid and Section 27 have to tell the state in advance before they make any public statement. The state has insisted this happen.

State advocate Tebogo Hutamo has complained in the hearing about the media speaking to family members and complained about the media approaching him with requests to interview family members.

Section 27 put out a press statement to explain the arbitration agreement to media.

It also said: "Section27 and its clients respect the process and will abide by it. As such‚ we urge any media to inform us of their intentions to interview us or members of the bereaved families in advance in order for us to comply with the agreement.

"Furthermore‚ Section27‚ its staff and our clients will no longer comment on social media‚ in compliance with the aforementioned agreement."

The arbitration process is for families to find "closure"‚ which will include a financial settlement.

A court would not reward money to families of the dead‚ as in law negligence pay-outs are linked to loss of earnings and the deceased were not working.

But retired deputy chief justice Dikgang Moseneke has to find a way to honour the dead financially. "There is a quite a big debate to be had here. If you have no money whatsoever‚ do we just say 'sorry' if you’re dead?" he said at a press conference before the event.

- TimesLIVE

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