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Former health official denies incompetence in Life Esidimeni inquest

Family members of more than 140 people who died in the Life Esidimeni saga are still awaiting closure as the inquest into their deaths continue. Picture: Itumeleng English/African News Agency (ANA) Archives

Family members of more than 140 people who died in the Life Esidimeni saga are still awaiting closure as the inquest into their deaths continue. Picture: Itumeleng English/African News Agency (ANA) Archives

Published Jan 20, 2022

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Johannesburg - Former Gauteng Health Department official Hannah Jacobus admitted she “did nothing” after she found some NGOs that received patients from Life Esidimeni were understaffed.

Cross-examination of the former Gauteng Health Department official continued virtually in the Pretoria High Court on Thursday.

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Jacobus, who is now retired, is the sixth witness to be called in the Life Esidimeni inquest.

The inquest, striving to determine what led to 144 mental healthcare users dying after being moved from Life Esidimeni facilities to NGOs in 2016, resumed this week.

Jacobus was in charge of checking NGOs' readiness to receive mental healthcare patients.

Under cross-examination by Advocate Phyllis Vorster, Jacobus told the court she only found out that some staff at NGOs resigned due to non-payment after the transfer of patients took place.

When asked what steps she had taken after finding out the NGOs were understaffed, Jacobus said she did not do anything.

“I went to [the NGOs] to assist with specific challenges, not to monitor or inspect,” she said.

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Earlier, Jacobus admitted that conditions at NGOs that received patients from Life Esidimeni failed to meet the basic requirements for an organisation to care for mental healthcare users.

She was cross-questioned on whether she raised such concerns with the former head of mental health at the Gauteng health department, Dr Makgabo Manamela.

Jacobus’ three-page statement about the payment for linen was brought to the fore as Vorster said by the time the statement around linen was produced, 77 healthcare users had died.

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“But people were dying and you were more concerned about whether linen was paid for.

“You didn't even know how many people had died but you were more concerned with payment of linen,” Vorster said.

Jacobus said there were other things that bothered her but she personally felt obliged that the payment of linen was supposed to be sorted out.

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Jacobus further said she was not in the office and not part of further discussions or deliberations to know about the deaths.

“I was out in the field, mostly in the Pretoria area, so my concentration was more on that side,” she said.

“If you had done your job properly, will people have died?” asked Vorster.

“I cannot attest to that,” Jacobus said.

“Then who must take responsibility?” Vorster asked.

“I don't know, Council,” Jacobus said.

The inquiry continues on Friday.

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Political Bureau

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