A family member is brought to tears during the hearing into the Life Esidimeni tragedy. Picture: Nokuthula Mbatha
Johannesburg - Where is Qedani Mahlangu? This is the big question that aggrieved family members attending the hearing into at least 118 deaths of former Life Esidimeni psychiatric patients have been asking.

As the question fell on deaf ears, some frustrated family members resorted to social media to post a placard with the face of the former Gauteng health MEC on it, with the words: “Wanted former Gauteng Health MEC Qedani Mahlungu. If found, pls send to Emoyeni conference venue to hear & answer (to) the people #LifeEsidimeni.”

With the hearings expected to come to an end this week, pressure has mounted to have the disgraced former MEC summoned to testify on her role in the disastrous move of the patients to unlicensed NGOs.

Mahlangu was not on the list of witnesses set to testify in the alternative dispute resolution (ADR) hearings presided over by former Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke.

She was considered the chief architect of the cause of the deaths. Mahlangu had persisted on the relocations despite warnings and pleas from some of her colleagues in the provincial department, NGOs and other stakeholders.

The relatives who spoke to The Sunday Independent on condition of anonymity are unanimous that Mahlangu needed to appear before Moseneke as they believed that she had the most responsibility for the deaths.

“As long as Qedani is not called to testify, these hearings are meaningless to us. We need answers; she must tell us why she took this terrible decision after we tried to tell her not to move our (loved ones). Why is she hiding?” asked one family member.

Betty*, whose relative died at Precious Angels (an unlicensed NGO) in Pretoria, said Mahlangu must be called to give her side of the story as everyone who had testified blamed her.

“We were surprised why she is not on the list. We are told the premier (David Makhura) and the current MEC (Gwen Ramokgopa) will come next week to testify, but this is not enough as they were not directly involved in murdering our loved ones. Why and who is protecting her (Mahlangu)?

Picture: Supplied

Sibongile*, who pointed out that there were similarities between the ADR and the TRC, said if Mahlangu doesn’t testify, the families would battle to find closure.

“These hearings are like the TRC. In coming years some (family members) will still be wanting to know why their loved ones died because if Mahlungu doesn’t testify they won’t have closure.”

DA’s Gauteng spokesperson on health Jack Bloom has also called for Mahlangu to appear before the ADR, saying he was disappointed that she was not on the list of witnesses.

“I am dismayed that she (Mahlangu) is not on the list. She is undoubtedly the prime cause of the Esidimeni tragedy in which at least 118 mental patients died.

“I support the demand by bereaved relatives that she be subpoenaed to explain her actions and hopefully express sincere remorse that could assist in the healing process.”

Bloom added Mahlangu should be charged with culpable homicide. Mahlangu, first disclosed in the legislature last year after questions from Bloom, that 36 patients had died and in subsequent reports she denied that the number was increasing.

“It cannot be that she gets off scot-free for her monstrous scheme that led to so many deaths,” Bloom said

Contacted for comment Health Ombudsman Professor Malegapuru Makgoba, who was tasked with the first inquiry into the deaths and recommended the ADR, said in his report that he did not say Mahlangu should appear at the ADR hearings.

“I think you should ask Judge (Moseneke). I think my report is clear and that’s where it stops,” he said.

“I don’t comment about who must appear in the arbitration, remember that I recommended the arbitration and the judge was appointed to deal with it.

“I cannot comment on who must come and who must not come. It’s none of my business,” the Health Ombud added.

On Thursday, two relatives who testified confirmed what they had told The Sunday Independent last year before the Health Ombud carried out the investigation into the deaths.

Reverend Joseph Maboe told the ADR that his son Billy died of hunger and dehydration at the Bophelong NGO.

Another relative of one of the deceased, Veleminah Thejane, detailed how her family was shunted from pillar to post in search of her brother Charles who died shortly after he was moved. Also on Friday, Boitumelo Mangena, whose mother Raisibe Mangena died after she was allegedly given the wrong medication at Takalani NGO called for Mahlangu to testify.

Sunday Independent