South African 'shambles' claims lives of 93 mentally ill patients in Gauteng

A patient stands in the grounds of a hospital
Image caption The investigation was prompted by complaints from families searching for their relatives

Nearly 100 mentally ill patients have died of starvation, dehydration and diarrhoea at care centres in South Africa, the health ombudsman has said.

The deaths occurred between March and December 2016 following a "reckless" attempt by the government to save money, Malegapuru Makgoba said.

It transferred patients from a specialised institution to centres with "invalid licences", he added.

The findings have led to the health minister in Gauteng province resigning.

A visibly angry Dr Makgoba released his findings in a report entitled 94 Silent Deaths and Counting.

He described the deaths as unlawful, and called on law enforcement agencies to take up the cases.

"One person has died from a mental health-related illness. None of the 93 [others] have died from a mental illness," Dr Makgoba said.

The ombudsman's investigation was prompted by complaints from families who were desperately searching for their relatives.

A total of 1,900 patients were transferred by the Gauteng health department from the Life Esidimeni health institution to various unregulated care organisations, he said.

The decision was taken to cut costs and was a "total shambles", Dr Makgoba added.

The Gauteng government's premier, David Makhura, said he had accepted the resignation of his health minister, Qedani Mahlangu.

Ms Mahlangu understood that if something went "profoundly wrong, you take direct accountability", he added, the local News24 site reported.

Will there be prosecutions? Analysis by the BBC's Milton Nkosi

There are bound to be further recriminations over one of the biggest health scandals in South Africa since the African National Congress (ANC) took power in 1994.

The party's youth wing has threatened to lay murder charges against Ms Mahlangu, a fellow ANC member.

She has resigned as Gauteng health minister, in a rare case of a South African politician taking responsibility for what happened under their watch.

Families of the deceased are hoping for some sort of closure and financial reparation. Will the government agree? And will there be prosecutions?

A lot will still be heard about this dark episode which took place under a government that had promised a better life for its citizens when it took office at the end of minority rule.

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