Precious Angels NGO owner Ethel Ncube Picture: Khanyisile Ngcobo/IOL

Johannesburg - Owner of Precious Angels, Ethel Ncube on Tuesday rubbished Health Ombudsman Malegapuru Makgoba's damning report about the inadequacy of her premises, adding that she would provide evidence to the contrary. 

She was grilled at the Life Esidimeni arbitration hearing chaired by retired Justice Dikgang Moseneke. 

Ncube's Precious Angels had two facilities in Attridgeville and Danville in Pretoria. She received 58 mentally ill patients, 23 of who died as the tragedy unfolded. 

Rights organisation Section 27's advocate Adila Hassim read out Makgoba's damning report on Precious Angels and asked her if she agreed with the findings. 

"It says here that there was not enough space at the premises, the beds were too close to each other that a door could not be closed. The ceiling leaked as well," Hassim said. 

Ncube objected, adding that evidence she would submit to the hearing would paint a different picture from Makgoba's report. 

"That is not true. The only issue was the ceiling, but it was not leaking...it just needed to [be] closed up. Evidence will show that everything said here is not true...we had a cook, cleaner and a security guard," she said. 

It was not true that the premises did not have hot running water, she added. 

Moseneke asked her if she disagreed with the report that the patients died of starvation and extreme cold weather. 

"I totally object...that is not true. I am not a medical professional and that's why we agreed on postmortems to be done in order to ascertain causes of death," she said. 

Makgoba's report found that Precious Angels operated under an irregular licence issued by provincial health department's chief director of planning, Levy Mosenogi, a contravention of the mental health act. 

"The high number of deaths at the NGOs, mainly Precious Angels, could reflect inexperience of the NGO staff in detecting medical problems in mentally disabled patients and difficulty in obtaining timely transport to hospital," read the report. 

Moseneke asked her what she thought killed her 23 patients within a space of six months. 

"You say you do not agree with what the Ombudsman is saying on cause of death. In your opinion, what do you think led to these tragic deaths? Would you say the patients were well taken care of?" he asked Ncube. 

Ncube responded saying: "I wouldn't know, I would want like to get closure. I think what killed them had to do with [their] previous [medical] history. I still object to what he [Ombudsman] said, I think [the deaths] happened through all frustrations of being moved from pillar to post...it got too much".

Ncube conceded that she was only trained in early childhood development, and not care for adults or mental patients. 

She added that she received training in accounting but never completed her studies. 

Hassim said families of the deceased would testify about their experiences at the NGO and on the aftermath of the deaths of their loved ones. 

In February, Gauteng Premier David Makhura suspended head of department Barney Selebano in the wake of recommendations by Makgoba, following the death of scores of psychiatric patients at ill-equipped facilities of various NGOs. 

The then Health MEC Qedani Mahlangu tendered her resignation as the saga unfolded. 

At the time, Makgoba’s report found that as many as 94 mentally ill patients who were transferred from Esidimeni to unlicensed care centres died of causes that included neglect and starvation. 

The death toll figure rose over time as more information was discovered by Makgoba, bringing the number of deaths to 118 – a figure he revealed while testifying before the inquiry last week. The figure rose again to 141 as acting HOD Enerst Kenoshi testified at the arbitration. 

The department said the reasons behind the termination of the Esidimeni contract was to cut costs and put the contract out to tender and allow other service providers to come in. 

However, the marathon project has since become costly as the department returned patients to Esidimeni in an effort to curb the crisis, resulting in the state paying more for the service than it initially did. 

- African News Agency (ANA)

(Edited by: Devereaux Morkel)