Gauteng Premier David Makhura delivers the State of the Province Address at Greenhills Stadium in Randfontein. Picture: Nokuthula Mbatha
Pretoria - The decision to move mental health patients to unlicensed NGOs where more than 100 died, was not taken by Premier David Makhura and his provincial executive but individuals in the Health Department.

This was said by Makhura himself when he appealed on Monday to rival political parties in the Gauteng Provincial Legislature not to use the deaths of more than 100 mental patients as a “political football”.

Makhura made the remarks during the official opening of the legislature at the Green Hills Stadium in Randfontein on Monday.

Prior to his address, Makhura’s entourage and various ANC members were met with protest actions by members of the DA and EFF. The DA members held a placard protest.

The placards called for the fall of Makhura, accusing him of being directly responsible for the deaths of the mentally ill patients.

Police had to fire stun grenades to prevent EFF members from attempting to gain forceful access to the stadium in what appeared to be a bid to disrupt the proceedings.

The red berets came to the stadium carrying crosses in which they also implicated Makhura in the deaths.

They sang songs claiming that Makhura was a murderer.

In the legislature, EFF members also wanted Speaker of the Legislature Ntombi Mekgwe to allow an opportunity to discuss a motion on the Esidimeni deaths.

But Mekgwe turned it down on the grounds that the party members failed to follow procedure on putting matters on the legislature’s agenda.

Soon after the EFF’s failed attempt to delay the State of the Province Address, Makhura used his address to lay into his critics, especially the EFF.

The DA members were sombre during the sitting but individually held posters remembering the dead mental patients.

“I would like to state categorically that the decision to transfer Life Esidimeni mental health patients to NGOs was not made in consultation with the provincial executive council,” Makhura said.

“The executive council and I would have never approved a plan to outsource mental health, a primary responsibility of the state to care for the vulnerable in society, to NGOs.

“ What is even worse is the fact that such NGOs didn’t meet the appropriate standards and legal prescripts.

“The provincial Department of Health had repeatedly reported that, as a result of the new hospitals and community health centres, they had enough beds in public health facilities that could accommodate public patients from private health facilities such as Selby Hospital and Life Esidimeni centres,” Makhura said.

The executive council does not interfere in the appointment or retention of service providers by provincial departments, he said. “We dare not be found on the wrong side of the law.

“I have always emphasised to all MECs and HODs reviewing contracts with any service provider that they must never compromise service delivery, especially to the most vulnerable groups which depend on them entirely for their well-being.

“Cost considerations can never override the imperative of the quality of care.

“It is common cause that the ill-fated transfer of patients to the NGOs compromised the well-being of the mental health patients. At the very least, the department should have placed all patients in public health facilities or retained the services of private facilities in case there was no sufficient space in the public sector. As the head of government, I am deeply aggrieved by the extent to which those responsible for this tragic and ill-fated transfer of patients to unlawfully operating NGOs, have tried to hide the facts from me, the minister of health and the health ombud,” Makhura said.

Makhura, Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi and the newly-appointed MEC for Health, Dr Gwen Ramokgopa, “were doing everything to implement the recommendations of the the health ombud”.

Appealing to rival political parties not to use the tragedy for political point scoring, Makhura said the families of the victims have also appealed for the same when he hosted at healing ceremony at Freedom Park on Saturday.

“At the healing ceremony families made an impassioned plea that as we mourn the tragic death of the mental health patients and take decisive corrective action, politicians and political parties must be advised not to use this tragedy as a political football because this prolongs their pain and anguish,” Makhura pleaded. He would ensure that the tragedy was not repeated, he said, and would use the remainder of his political term to ensure that all vulnerable communities were living in safe houses. “I will appoint a Premier’s Mental Health Advisory Panel to assist in this mission,” he said.

DA spokesman on health Jack Bloom in his reaction to the premier said: “I was astonished that the premier claimed he did not know that the psychiatric patients would be sent to NGOs.

“This is surely not true as former Health MEC Qedani Mahlangu stated this publicly and I warned many times in the legislature about the risks to the patients. Real accountability would be if he accepted responsibility and resigned. He should have monitored what was happening and stopped it when lives could have been saved.”

Pretoria News