The Life Esidimeni Tragedy: South Africa And The Mentally Ill

Ever since I was a young girl, my mother taught me to ask myself this question: What did I do for someone else today? In the latter part of my twenties, that line has stuck with me and it’s something that has more meaning now than ever before.

Have you heard of the Life Esidimeni Tragedy? If not, I urge you to read up on it. What you will learn will astound you, in the worst way possible. Back in 2015, the government of South Africa, more specifically the Gauteng Health Department, decided to end a 40-year-old contract with the Life Esidimeni Health Care Centre due to an attempt to cut funds. Close to 2000 psychiatric patients were then transferred to horrendous non-governmental organisations which neither had the capacity to care for the mentally ill nor the expertise. Hundreds of patients died from starvation, neglect, and abuse, to list a few. The conditions which they lived in up until their death were nothing short of ghastly. The family members of the patients were reported to have “watched their loved ones waste away and die, powerless to do anything to prevent it.” Several Constitutional rights of these patients were violated. This is the 21st Century.

I am not trying to be all doom and gloom. But, be in this with me. Explain to me why everyday people have to fight to be treated like human beings, and then die trying. All around us are souls which are withering away, and for what? For what cause? What makes the less fortunate any different to the fortunate, apart from the luck of the draw? We are surrounded by so much good amidst the bad, but it is so easy to put the blinkers on and pretend like these tragedies are either out of our control or do not affect us. We, as a species, are so comfortable in securing our own lives, defending our own nests, protecting our own young. Is it really every man for himself?

I do not wish to guilt-trip you, but surely there is more to being a part of the human race than being successful in our own right and living a healthy and happy life. We have come an amazingly long way as a species. From our opposable thumbs to our big brains, we have worked hard to set ourselves apart from the animal kingdom. We have left the planet, built skyscrapers, manipulated genetics. Each century it becomes more difficult to think of other facets of this world that man will not be able to somehow figure out and conquer. So, now what?

Let us be more aware. Let us step out and do more for each other, not just when bad things happen, but as a part of a lifestyle that we can sustain. Let us not turn a blind eye to the truth. I just want to be better, and hope that each day more and more of us can wake up and ask ourselves the question: What can I do for someone else today?

What are we doing, South Africa?

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