LIVE FEED: Day 2 of inquest into Life Esidimeni tragedy
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The inquest into the ill-fated the transfer of more than 2 000 mental health patients from Life Esidimeni Health Care to care centres that did not have licences to look after mental health patients resumes in Pretoria on Tuesday.
The patients were moved despite court applications to challenge the move.
A total of 144 patients died at various centres. Now, civil society organisations such as Section27 and the South African Depression and Anxiety Group want those responsible to be held criminally liable.
Section 27 on Monday asked the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria to rule that former Gauteng Health MEC Qedani Mahlangu and two of her former senior officials were responsible for the death of 144 Life Esidimeni patients.
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The organisation made the submission on the first day of the inquest through its legal counsel, Advocate Adila Hassim SC, to Judge Mnonoa Teffo, who is presiding at the inquest into the death of the patients.
In support of her submission, Hassim asked Judge Teffo to accept the findings of the arbitration hearings led by retired Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke, who in February 2018 made damning findings against Mahlangu, her former head of department Dr Barney Selebano and former head of mental health patients Dr Makgabo Manamela.
During the arbitration hearing, Justice Moseneke rejected their submissions that they had no reason to believe that the displaced mental health patients would die or suffer severe ill-treatment and torture.
According to Justice Moseneke, their responses were improbable, saying they refused to stop the mass transfer of mental health patients.
“She [Dr Manamela] also claimed that she could not reasonably foresee that patients under the care of her directorate might lose their lives or be subjected to extended degrading treatment and torture.
“Dr Manamela was integral to the decision to end the Life Esidimeni contract. She was not a victim and dutiful servant, but a leader and principal decision-maker. The evidence shows that she produced a plan to transfer the patients en masse.
“She was physically present at removal sites. She visited non-governmental organisations and must have known of their parlous conditions.”
Regarding Dr Selebano, Justice Moseneke said he supported the transfer of the patients, saying he must have foreseen that death and torture might ensue, and he nonetheless allowed the project to continue, and death and torture did indeed ensue.
“Ms Mahlangu too denied that she was administratively responsible for the mass death and torture related to the Marathon Project ... However, on all accounts, she was at the helm of the Marathon Project. She was the ultimate leader and commander of the project ... She was aware of the full risks of implementing the Marathon Project. She ignored and indeed brushed aside the warnings at many levels that death might ensue and it did ... Her stance that she could not reasonably foresee that death might ensue or that mental health care users might be subjected to torture is untenable and cannot be believed,” Justice Moseneke said.
Section27 made a plea to Judge Teffo to accept the finding of Justice Moseneke, saying all three were told by the clinical heads of Gauteng specialised psychiatric hospitals and academic departments and the SA Society of Psychiatrists about the dangers of transferring the patients to the bogus centres.
“They were told so by the concerned families who sought to protect their relatives by having a curator ad litem appointed in order to ensure that the best interests of the patients were protected. They chose to oppose those proceedings and then entered into a settlement agreement that they did not uphold.
“They were asked to urgently stop the transfer when the first deaths were reported. They chose not to. They were told that the NGOs, particularly Precious Angels and Anchor, were incapable of providing the necessary care for the patients. But they chose to leave the patients in those homes where they would have insufficient food and water, no warmth, inadequate supervision and no access to the medication they required: ‘death traps’ as Justice Moseneke called them,” Hassim argued.
Mahlangu denied any wrongdoing. She told Judge Teffo that the decision to transfer the patients was made by Premier David Makhura.
The hearing continues.