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When mental illnesses become disabling, they are called psychosocial disabilities. Persons with psychosocial disabilities are therefore also protected under instruments such as the UN Convention on The Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD), to which South Africa is also a signatory, and also the White Paper on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The South African Federation for Mental Health (SAFMH) actively works towards ensuring that the rights of people with psychosocial and intellectual disabilities are upheld. Persons with mental disabilities (those with psychosocial and intellectual disabilities) have rights, are capable of claiming those rights, and can make decisions about their lives, based on their free and informed consent. They are also able to function as active members of society.

Persons with mental disabilities face various forms of inequality and discrimination in their lives and their rights, as outlined in the UNCRPD, are routinely violated. Members of the public are often also unaware of the UNCRPD and its implications for persons with disabilities and those who interact with them, be it in the community, in the family home, as part of service provision, in institutional settings (e.g. health and correctional facilities) or in the workplace.

As South Africans commemorate Human Rights Day on the 21st of March, SAFMH would like to remind the nation that persons with mental disabilities also have human rights. SAFMH, whose core function is the promotion and preservation of human rights, receives frequent requests for legal support from persons with mental disabilities or their families. Whilst SAFMH is unable to physically resolve matters that require urgent legal intervention, it makes every effort to link persons by making referrals to appropriate avenues for support that might be available. However, legal personnel and legal organisations skilled in working with persons with mental disabilities are scarce, particularly on a pro bono basis, which is what is normally required by those making enquiries.

In commemoration of Human Right Day 2020, SAFMH would, therefore, like to call on legal organisations and independent legal personnel to consider becoming one of the entities to which it can refer such matters.

Not having adequate legal representation negatively impacts on persons with mental disabilities‘ rights, which include; the right to equality before the law and the right to human dignity as outlined in the South African constitution.

Human rights violations affect persons with mental disabilities severely as they form part of the marginalised groups of society, needing to continuously deal with the impact of stigma and discrimination attached to their disabilities. A large number of those experiencing human rights violations don’t report it, some don’t know where to report it and others who do report it often find that their cases end up unresolved.

Mental health is an often-neglected area of health and human rights, desperately requiring swift interventions. Unfortunately, so many people fall between the cracks, finding that no help is available to them. SAFMH would like to see this change and calls on others to do their part in ensuring that we uphold the values enshrined in our constitution.

Any legal service providers who wish to get involved and express an interest in partnering with SAFMH and providing pro bono legal assistance can email Kamogelo Sefanyetso at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

For more information contact:

Masutane Modjadji

011 781 1852

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28 June 2017

In light of recent reports of dramatic, sudden cuts in NGO subsidies in Gauteng, the SA Federation for Mental Health condemns such ill treatment of NGO’s by the Gauteng Department of Health.

Media reports and complaints to our offices have brought to light the fact that the Gauteng Department of Health has failed to pay the monthly subsidies of a number of NGO’s caring for vulnerable mental health care users (MHCU) in the province for the past few months, possibly due to revised licensing guidelines that the Department has hastily put in place in response to the Ombudsman’s damning report on the Gauteng Marathon Project, which saw approximately 100 MHCUs lose their lives due to poor planning and execution by the Gauteng Department of Health.

These NGO’s now face possible closure, and the MHCU face being left destitute, as a result of the Departments actions. It is important to recognise that ultimately any ill treatment of NGO’s by the Department translates into ill treatment of MHCU, as they are dependent on the care and services that they receive from the NGO’s.

SAFMH National Director, Bharti Patel, says the Gauteng Department of Health is not showing its commitment to mental healthcare. “NGO’s have communicated their challenges – which range from not being issued with licenses to non-communication about subsidies - to the Gauteng Portfolio Committee on Health. The Department of Health promised to issue licenses to all of the affected NGO’s two weeks ago, and yet today we hear that licensing is still a problem and this is affecting subsidies. The Department of Health does not seem to be serious about improving mental health services despite the increased budget allocations which were announced after the Health Ombudsman’s report on the Life Esidimeni tragedy.” 

In the wake of the Life Healthcare Esidimeni crisis, the Gauteng Department of Health should be mindful not to again jeopardise lives through carelessness or poor, rushed administrative procedures. While SAFMH recognises the need for new and stricter licensing requirements for NGO’s to be implemented, these procedures should be implemented in such a way that the care of MHCU is not affected and that NGOs are given sufficient time to bring themselves in-line with new licensing demands placed on them by the Department of Health so that service standards may be raised realistically whilst ensuring that the process is managed effectively and is not to the detriment of MHCUs.

SAFMH calls on the Department to pay all of the subsidies owing to the various affected NGO’s, and going forward to manage the licensing process in a more consultative and realistic manner. Whilst we recognise the need for more stringent licensing procedures, such new measures should be implemented with the wellbeing of MHCUs in mind at all times. We call on all parties involved to remember that the most important aspect of this case is the wellbeing of the MHCUs, and we urge all stakeholders to place their interests first.



Marthé Kotze

Programme Manager: Information & Awareness

SA Federation for Mental Health

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Bharti Patel

National Director

SA Federation for Mental Health

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