Families of the Life Esidimeni deceased psychiatric patients carry wooden crosses outside the Health Department in Johannesburg. Picture: Chris Collingridge
Johannesburg - Qedani Mahlangu could face criminal prosecution for her role in the deaths of 94 psychiatric patients, with some political parties and NGOs vowing that they would pursue legal action against her.

Gauteng Premier David Makhura has also been targeted for legal action as the public outrage over the scandal surrounding the ill-fated relocation of mentally ill patients from Life Esidimeni in Randfontein to NGO facilities across the province escalated.

Mahlangu apologised for the tragedy on Thursday, reiterating Makhura’s statement that she had tendered her resignation as the MEC on Tuesday night following Health Ombudsman Professor Malegapuru Makgoba’s damning report.

Mahlangu’s roles in provincial government have been mired in controversy.

Gauteng Health MEC Qedani Mahlangu has stepped down. At least 94 mentally ill patients were confirmed dead after proper care was deemed too expensive. File photo: Dumisani Sibeko

The Star understands, however, that she believed she had the legal recourse to challenge the findings against her because she was of the view that Makgoba had ignored her representations to him.

Mahlangu, however, opted not to seek a review of the findings as she felt it would have been insensitive to do so because of the loss of life.

Well-placed sources within the Gauteng provincial government said Mahlangu felt prejudiced by Makgoba’s investigation.

“It would appear that he (Makgoba) really went for the smoking gun, so it would not matter what Qedani tried to represent to him. He completely ignored her representation,” the source said.

“Legally, she feels she can challenge some of these (findings), but must she do that? It will be insensitive of her.”

Makgoba’s report could signal the death knell for Mahlangu’s political career, spanning 20 years, during which she served in Parliament and in various portfolios in Gauteng, including as the MEC of economic development as well as infrastructure development.

Makhura has now appointed former Tshwane mayor and Deputy Health Minister Gwen Ramokgopa as Mahlangu’s successor. Until she takes over, Social Development MEC Nandi Mayathula-Khoza will act as health MEC.

In his report, “94 Silent Deaths and Still Counting”, released yesterday, Makgoba was particularly damning on Mahlangu, department head Dr Tiego Ephraim Selebano and the director, Dr Makgabo Manamela.

He said “their fingerprints are peppered throughout the (relocation) project”.

Premier David Makhura at a press conference on the deaths of mentally ill patients in Gauteng. Picture: Jacques Naudé

“It was of grave concern that three of the Gauteng Department of Health’s most senior officials did not know how many patients had died,” Makgoba said, adding that most of those interviewed blamed the MEC and the “principals of the project”.

“The deaths cannot be really dissociated with the move. You don’t take very sick patients and put them in a facility where they do not have care. The decision was irrational and totally against the fundamental principle of healthcare practice.”

Makgoba said of Mahlangu: “The MEC is alleged by many to have said her ‘decision was final and non-negotiable, and the project had to be done’, she left no room for ‘engagement’.”

Makgoba said the relocations brought “pain and anguish” to many families as well as national and international disrepute and embarrassment to South Africa, particularly the health system.

Makhura said the department head and other senior officials identified in the Health Ombudsman’s report would face disciplinary action.

“There can be no passing of the buck,” the premier said, adding the process to relocate patients from the NGOs to safe places would start today.

Spokesperson for the Gauteng government Thabo Masebe said this would entail identifying and assessing the suitability of the places before the patients were moved.

Mahlangu said she would not challenge the Makgoba report’s recommendations.

She noted it was she who had initiated the report.

“These deaths occurred under my leadership, and I take political accountability as the final authority in the department,” she said.

Mahlangu is apparently also aggrieved that Makgoba’s scope of investigation did not cover the deaths that happened at Esidemeni, as requested by her and the premier. She and the provincial government were also apparently surprised when Makgoba extended the investigation to December.

“He was asked to investigate Esidemeni and the deaths that might have occurred there, but didn’t do anything. (Instead) he extended it to December, whereas at the time it was between May and July.”

The Star