DA Defends Controversial Billboard With Life Esidimeni Memorial

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The Democratic Alliance (DA) held a memorial service for the victims of the Life Esidimeni tragedy on Thursday. The service came a week after the party unveiled a controversial billboard saying “The African National Congress (ANC) is killing us” with a list of the victims of the Life Esidimeni tragedy, the Marikana massacre, and the children who died in pit toilets.

The memorial was held at the Mary Fitzgerald Square in Newtown outside Gauteng Premier David Makhura’s offices. Makhura – handing out bursaries to Gauteng learners who passed their Grade 12 – was in Benoni at the time.

Jack Bloom instrumental in the fight for justice for Life Esidimeni

The memorial, held almost a year after the final Life Esidimeni arbitration hearings took place,  was not a political or electioneering move but only a way to honour the victims of the tragedy, the party said. DA leader Mmusi Maimane started off his speech praising the DA’s Gauteng shadow health MEC Jack Bloom before moving onto expressing thanks to the victims’ families for being at the memorial.

Bloom was hailed by all the speakers at the memorial for being instrumental in raising the issue of the Life Esidimeni tragedy, where 144 patients who were mentally ill died after being shipped into ill-equipped and under-funded NGOs. Jack Bloom was instrumental in the fight for justice for the Life Esidimeni tragedy, Maimane said.

Although the event – and the billboard has been criticised as “desperate politicking,” Maimane said the memorial was held to honour those who had died in the tragedy.  He declared the party would not rest until complete justice is served for the victims: “We will not rest until the remaining 1000 patients of the 1700 who were originally moved have been tracked down and compensated.”

Life Esidimeni families come out in support the DA

Three Life Esidimeni families were present at the memorial. “The DA uncovered all the skeletons, all the things that were hidden, especially Jack Bloom,” DA public representative and mother of a Life Esidimeni patient Rashida Landis said in an interview with The Daily Vox. Landis said that she herself fed the DA information about Life Esidimeni.

“The world out there needs to know – white, black, coloured, Indian – justice must prevail. Whether you come from the DA, Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) or who it must be open in public because the ANC is doing everything undercover,” Landis said.

A representative from the Moloi family Mara Moloi told The Daily Vox that although the ANC tried to help the family, they didn’t have a way forward as presented by the DA. “They were so fast to respond, we are happy,” Moloi said.

The Moloi family lost their son in the Life Esidimeni tragedy, and he was buried without their consent and knowledge.

Other Life Esidimeni families are pursuing legal action against the party who are angry because they weren’t consulted. Maimane addressed this at the memorial and said the decision to print the names of the deceased patients was not one that was taken “lightly”. “I also know that this decision may have reopened wounds of the victims’ loved ones, and for that, I apologise,” Maimane said.

The party will launch its manifesto in February

The party would be officially launching their manifesto for the 2019 elections on February 23, in the south of Johannesburg. In September 2018, the party held the launch of their election campaign where they introduced their supporters to the people who would be running for public office.

“On 23 February when we fill up Rand Stadium, we will be able to articulate a full policy to the people of South Africa that will be founded on the principles of freedom and fairness and ensuring we can build ‘One South For All,” a spokesperson for the party Mabine Seabe said.

Head of policy for the DA resigns

On February 24 the DA’s head of policy Gwen Ngwenya resigned saying she resigned because she does not believe the party takes policy seriously. “We are thankful for the work Gwen Ngwenya has put into ensuring that we have a credible manifesto going into elections and she will continue to serve the party,” Seabe said adding that one person is not responsible for the manifesto.

In a letter written to Maimane, Ngwenya says: “The bottom line is that I do not believe the DA takes policy seriously; and as a result, there has not been the operational or political resources necessary to result in a policy outcome I can be proud to be associated with.”

Reporting by Shaazia Ebrahim and Fatima Moosa

Featured image by Shaazia Ebrahim

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