The Life Esidimeni centre in Randfontein closed in May 2016. Picture: Bhekikhaya Mabaso/African News Agency (ANA) Archives
The Life Esidimeni centre in Randfontein closed in May 2016. Picture: Bhekikhaya Mabaso/African News Agency (ANA) Archives

Life Esidimeni inquest postponed over concerns about legal representation for implicated officials

By Kelly Jane Turner Time of article published Jul 21, 2021

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The Life Esidimeni Inquest has been postponed to Friday after concerns were raised about the legal representation of potentially implicated government officials who had dealt with the transfer of hundreds of psychiatric patients.

Judge Mmonoa Teffo, who is chairing the virtual hearing at the Pretoria High Court, said those implicated, including the former director of mental health in Gauteng, Dr Makgabo Manamela, have until Friday to secure legal representation.

“I do not want us to proceed in this fashion. For every party who is going to be part of these proceedings, it is important that all their interests are protected. The court doesn't have any problems with the cross-examinations being reserved for a later stage once the issue has been resolved,” she said.

The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) started the formal inquiry on Monday, five years after the tragedy in which at least 144 psychiatric patients died.

The Gauteng Health Department transferred the patients in 2016 from Life Esidimeni to various unlicensed non-governmental organisations (NGOs) not equipped to care for the patients.

State advocate Tebogo Hutamo told the court he was representing several former and current government officials, and that this could lead to conflicting evidence.

“There is the potential that these witnesses may give conflicting evidence, and in that regard this might be a challenge on our part to be able to represent them at the same time, so the department is considering the applications as to whether they should rather be given separate legal representation for purposes of assisting them,” he said.

Proceedings are set to resume at 10am on Friday.

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