Damning testimonies of Premier David Makhura and Finance MEC Barbara Creecy put the blame for the death of 144 psychiatric patients at Mahlangu’s doorstep.
Health Minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi also weighed in saying he was still puzzled why Mahlangu’s department had allowed the Life Esidimeni contract to be cancelled.
“There was a clear intention to hide it from the minister and the premier. But for what reasons? There’s a lot of criminality in this case. I’ve been trying to see what the motive is and it beats me,” Motsoaledi said.
The Esidimeni hearings were thrown into further turmoil by suggestions the death toll might go up to 156.
In the second half of what was supposed to be the last day of evidence at the hearing, Section27’s Advocate Nikki Stein shocked the arbitration when she announced the number of those who died had been undercounted.
According to her count, there were at least 12 more people who died. This shoots the number of dead to 156.
Stein said they gave the information to the state lawyers on December 7 for verification but nothing had been done.
The head of the arbitration retired deputy chief justice Dikgang Moseneke said the latest number should be verified.
After an adjournment, it was agreed that the new names should be handed over to Health Ombudsman Professor Malegapuru Makgoba for verification.
New Gauteng health MEC Dr Gwen Ramokgopa said it was important to verify the numbers as soon as possible. “Due process has to be dealt with as speedily as possible so we can get down to the numbers,”she said.
Moseneke refused to extend the hearings. He said the verification must be done before legal arguments in two weeks. “If that is not done, I will accept the uncontroverted evidence placed before me,” Moseneke said.
It was, however, the testimony of Makhura that seemed to set the tone for Mahlangu. The premier accused her of misleading him about the magnitude of the tragedy.
Makhura’s testimony kicked off with the question on why Mahlangu had misled the premier budget council on transferring of the patients to NGOs - she had said they would be absorbed into government hospitals: “I can’t think of a reason. It can only be an exercise in shifting blame.”
The premier also conceded that the cancellation of the Esidimeni contract was not in line with the Mental Health Act, despite Mahlangu’s reliance on a clause that states that “mental healthcare users must be treated in the less restrictive ways”.
Makhura’s submission was in line with that of Creecy who earlier had dismissed Mahlangu’s assertion that the Esidimeni contract was cancelled to save money.
“Treasury has never demanded that any department must cut down on core services. We understand how many people in our province are dependent on state social services of one form or another for their well-being,” said Creecy.
Criminal lawyer Robert Xaba said if the Alternative Dispute Resolution Hearings report showed that she was reckless, the former MEC could face criminal charges.
His views were supported by Jack Bloom, the DA’s spokesperson on health in Gauteng, who said he had previously laid culpable homicide charges against Mahlangu.
Bloom told The Star that the prosecutors withdrew the case as they wanted to give the police enough time to conduct investigations.
Also read: ‘Where are unaccounted for patients?’
“We will have to wait and see what the police charges bring. But if they don’t bring charges against the MEC, I will reinstitute them.
“I think that the evidence against her is overwhelming,” Bloom said.
Xaba said that families of the dead psychiatric patients could sue for damages.
The psychiatric patients died when they were moved from Life Esidimeni facilities to a number of NGOs.
Some of the these NGOs were not properly registered and patients died of hunger, neglect and dehydration.
Asked how much the families should be given in compensation, Ramokgopa said: “As we speak now the Gauteng Health Department in in dire financial straits.
“We are committed to sit down with families and look into what is in their best interest and we can still be able to continue offering services. The health system is indeed in serious strain,” she added.