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The South African Federation for Mental Health has written to President Jacob Zuma asking that the 21st of March, Human Rights Day, be declared a national day of mourning for those who lost their lives in the Life Esidimeni tragedy. The mental health care users who lost their lives due to mismanagement and negligence deserve to be honoured and remembered, and it is our hope that the Presidency will show its commitment to the human rights of mental health care users by granting this request.

SAFMH has also asked the President to ensure that NGO’s and community based mental health organisations are included as part of the process of reviewing and improving mental health in South Africa. We ask to be included in this process as allies and partners in order to ensure that mental health care users receive the highest possible levels of care and treatment. The Life Esidimeni tragedy has shown the necessity of upscaling community based mental health services, and of ensuring that community based NGOs and organisations receive adequate support and resources.

In light of this, SAFMH welcomes the commitments made by the Gauteng MEC for finance Barbara Creecy in the 2017/18 financial budget. For too long mental health has been under prioritised and underfunded, and it is heartening to see that R893.8 million has been set aside over the next three years to fund the provision of effective and efficient mental health care services in Gauteng.

While the Gauteng Department of Health is busy with the relocation of the former Life Esidimeni patients to licensed facilities, it is important to remember the crucial role that these community based mental health services play. Although the Life Esidimeni tragedy Revealed that DOH played a role in creating unlicensed NGOs who did not have the capacity to care for the patients, there are many licensed NGO’s who have been delivering quality care to their communities with a minimal subsidy from the state. Without these organisations many mental health care users would not have been able to receive the care and treatment they required.

SAFMH would like to urge both the provincial and national Departments of Health to commit to working with the community based NGO’s in order to effectively achieve the aims set out in the National Mental Health Strategic Action Plan. It is our hope that the President will take into consideration our requests and recommendations, and that the NGO sector will be allowed to play a role in reshaping and improving the mental health sector in South Africa, as well as the lives of South African mental health care users.

The value of Community Based Services rendered by licensed NGO’s, from a Mental Health Care Users Perspective

“Community services for me as a person with Bipolar Mood Disorder Type 2 (BMD2), have contributed a great deal to my process of recovery. These services have educated me about my mental disability, especially when I had to take ownership of my condition. For example, there were certain lifestyle changes which I had to make, and my mental health had to be my main priority.

If it wasn’t for these community services, I would not have known about my rights as a person with a psychosocial disability, and that I should be treated with dignity and respect in my community. I am grateful for these community services, they have added value to my life. Being slowly integrated into society after learning of my mental illness was not easy. I was exposed to different services whereby I was taught about social skills and how to manage my mental health, what my triggers are and where to seek help if I am unsure of what the side effects of medication are.

I believe these services should be accessible to all persons with mental disabilities. These community services are very important to me, because they have not only assisted with therapy but they have also empowered me with tools to live a happy and productive life. I am grateful for these services, because if it wasn’t for them I would be living on the street, with no idea of how to heal and recover from my mental condition. People with psychosocial and intellectual disabilities need not suffer in silence, there are community services available to them, with resources to help them function in society.”

- Sifiso Mkhasibe



Marthé Viljoen

Programme Manager: Information & Awareness 

SA Federation for Mental Health

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 Life Esidimeni - Report into the circumstances surrounding the deaths of mentally ill patients: Gauteng Province 




2 December 2016

Every year 3 December is celebrated as International Day of Disability. According to the United Nations, “More than one billion people, or approximately 15 per cent of the world's population, live with some form of disability. 80 per cent live in developing countries.” In South Africa we have legislation such as the Bill of Rights, the White Paper on Disability, and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities that protect the rights of persons with disabilities. However, without correct and timeous implementation, this legislation is unable improve lives.

Mental health received a great deal of media coverage this past year, mainly due to the ongoing Life Healthcare Esidimeni case and the unfortunate deaths that occurred following the relocation of mental health care users from the Life Esidimeni facilities to community NGOs selected by the Gauteng Department of Health. SAFMH has been vocal over the fact that we believe the relocation of these mental health care users was not handled according to the recommended process of deinstitutionalisation laid out in the Mental Health Care Policy Framework and Strategic Action Plan (2013-2020). Deinstitutionalisation is a process of replacing long-stay psychiatric hospitals with less isolated and institutionalised community mental health services. For deinstitutionalisation to be successful, it needs to go hand in hand with the upscaling of community mental health services.

This year a decision was taken that the National Disability Day event on the 3rd of December will not be a celebration as usual, but rather a commemoration to honour the 37 lives lost. The South African Federation for Mental Health supports this decision, and will be attending the National event, where we will present Government with a report compiled through research of the community based mental health care system in Gauteng. The aim of the report is to show how better implementation of the Mental Health Policy Framework is needed to improve the services and care offered to mental health care users.

In the report, SAFMH has made the following recommendations:

  • ·         The Health Ombudsman’s report on his investigation on the Life Esidimeni case must be made public to ensure transparency and accountability
  • ·         Mental health services need to be prioritised and developed with an equal level of (high) importance across all provinces in South Africa, and across rural and urban areas
  • ·         Services and resources at community level should be developed in consultation with mental health care users, their families, NGOs and other key partners to ensure that the development of such services are done in an informed and collaborative way
  • ·        The prioritisation / resourcing / implementation / monitoring of the Mental Health Policy Framework and Strategic Action Plan at provincial level is essential, and provincial Departments of Health need to be held accountable for failure to do so
  • ·     Savings generated through budget cuts in tertiary Psychiatric Care Facilities (such as what happened with the termination of the Life Esidimeni contract) need to be transferred to support community-based care
  • ·         Government needs to address the widely pervasive shortfalls in resources needed to adequately facilitate deinstitutionalisation policy requirements
  • ·      There is a need for NGOs to become more recognised as key partners in the delivery of mental health services and to be respected and treated as such. Government needs to recognise that without the upscaling of and provision of community-based services South Africa’s commitment towards deinstitutionalisation will never be realised
  • ·      South Africa requires more consistent and more comprehensive subsidisation of community-based services, with adequate increases and timely payments of subsidies to ensure continuity in community-based mental health service delivery
  • ·      There is a need for more family empowerment programmes to ensure that MHCUs who return to their homes are able to receive the support they require from their families and that family members are sufficiently equipped with the necessary skills to help them take care of MHCUs within their homes

SAFMH is alarmed by reports that that the relocation of 240 residents of Eastern Cape Frail Care is being handled in the same manner as that of the Gauteng Life Esidimeni patients, and we are concerned over the wellbeing of this vulnerable group. This Disability Day SAFMH would like to appeal to government to recommit to upholding the rights of persons with psychosocial and intellectual disabilities, and to take every possible step to ensure that no service user in South Africa is subjected to inhuman and degrading treatment through system and service weaknesses.


Bharti Patel - This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

National Director


Marthé Viljoen – This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Programme Manager Information & Awareness

SA Federation for Mental Health




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