Ntombifuthi Dhladhla, the sister of Joseph Gumede who died in Cullinan Care and Rehabilitation Centre after being moved from Life Esidimini, is comforted by social worker Rachel Rambasa, left, and advocate Adila Hassim during the Life Esidimeni alternative dispute resolution process. Dhladhla said her family found out about her brother's death this February after he died in June last year. Picture: Itumeleng English/ANA
Johannesburg - An internal inquiry into the deaths of psychiatric patients moved from Life Esidimeni care facilities found a Gauteng health official not guilty on all charges, including that of gross negligence.

Yet, the same official last week stood before retired deputy chief justice Dikgang Moseneke, who is chairing an inquiry into the tragedy, and admitted that she had failed in her fiduciary duties to protect the lives of the Esidimeni patients.

Some of them died from dehydration and negligence after they were transferred to private NGOs.

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Gauteng Mental Health Review Board chairperson Dumazile Masondo disclosed that all disciplinary charges against her had been finalised by the department and that she was acquitted on all four charges of gross negligence, failure to perform her fiduciary duties, failure to perform her leadership role and failure to perform her duties.

The official, who is suspended from her duties, denied claims that her funeral parlour benefited from the deaths.

At the arbitration hearings, Masondo said she had violated her duties “by ignorance”.

She said she was under the impression that she reported to the suspended director of mental health, Dr Makgabo Manamela, and former health MEC Qedani Mahlangu.

“I was under the impression they were my seniors and in the profession we are told to respect our seniors.

"So, today I learned something new, that they were supposed to report to me,” she said during cross-examination.

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However, Moseneke was not impressed with Masondo’s responses and warned her that she was under oath and could be held liable for perjury.

“You are testifying under oath and everything you say is being recorded,” he said.

Masondo conceded that there was gross negligence during Life Esidimeni’s marathon project and apologised for what she described as a “shame and disgrace”.

“I want to say to the public, it’s a shame and disgrace that there are a number of deaths in our profession as mental health practitioners.”

Masondo, who was suspended in March after the release of health ombudsman Malegapuru Makgoba’s report which found her and other five senior Gauteng health officials directly responsible for the deaths of more than 118 patients, was testifying on the 15th day of the arbitration hearings in Parktown on Friday.

She was quizzed about an article published on February 5 in the Sunday Independent headlined: "Undertaker link exposed" and which implicated her funeral parlour in transporting the body of Charles Thejane to Warrenton in the Northern Cape for money.

Thejane was one of the victims of the Life Esidimeni debacle and died after being moved from the centre to other NGOs.

In the newspaper article, his brother accused the Gauteng Department of Health of forcing the family to use Masondo's services.

But this week Masondo claimed all she did was help Manamela and Mahlangu to solve the transport crisis as they knew she was involved in the funeral services business.

She denied receiving money from the Gauteng Department of Health.

In the February article she said R4500 was paid to the person she organised to transport the body.

“It was not my undertaker and it wasn’t an undertaker of African Queens of Africa. It was just an ordinary person who transported bodies to various places. And what I did was take all the particulars of the driver and told him to contact the department so that they can give you (the driver) payment.

“At the end of the day I never received a cent from the department. There was no financial gain. I was only assisting the deceased's family,” she said.

The Sunday Independent