Johannesburg - Some families of the mental health patients who died after they were “unlawfully” moved from Life Esidimeni to unregistered NGOs want former Gauteng health MEC Qedani Mahlangu to face criminal charges.
They are adamant that Mahlangu was the person who orchestrated the relocation of more than 1700 patients to ill-equipped NGOs across Gauteng, which resulted in the deaths of at least 143 patients.
During her testimony at the Life Esidimeni arbitration hearing this week, Mahlangu sought to lay the blame on senior managers in the department, including former head of department Tiego Selebano and former director Makgabo Manamela.
She insisted that she had been misled by the officials and that she had no reason to doubt them as they were “highly qualified professionals”.
She told the hearing she believed them when they told her that everything was going well with the implementation of the project.
Retired deputy chief justice Dikgang Moseneke, who is presiding over the hearings, was visibly frustrated with Mahlangu’s evasiveness and inconsistencies in her answers, when quizzed by the lawyers representing the families.
Now some of the families want her to be criminally prosecuted for her alleged role in the deaths.
Among them is Joseph Ngwenya, who considers his son Zibusiso to be lucky to have survived when he was transferred to Cullinan.
Ngwenya said Mahlangu was rude and he did not believe her apology was genuine.
“Mahlangu lied throughout her testimony and I don’t think even her apology was sincere. She came across as someone who is a bully and does not show remorse,” he said.
A relative who asked not be named said the only way for justice to prevail was if Mahlangu was criminally prosecuted.
“She is taking us and this process (hearings) for granted. She does not want to take responsibility for her role in the deaths of our beloved ones. Until she is arrested and charged I will not find closure. My relative died of hunger and wrong medication because of Mahlangu’s negligence,” said the relative.
Last year Manamela and Selebano implicated Mahlungu as the chief architect of the project to move the patients to NGOs.
Both said she had not listened to their warnings that the project would be a disaster if it was hastily implemented.
Selebano told the hearing that when they had a meeting with the Mahlangu regarding the contents of an email which warned her of the dangers of the project, she had accused them of working for Life Esidimeni.
She had asked them: “Are you now working for Life Esidimeni?”
Selebano had asked for the extension of the Life Esidimeni contract for up to a year but this was shot down by Mahlangu.
During cross-examination, however, Mahlangu denied ever seeing the email, saying she had been on sick leave.
Her evidence was fraught with contradictions, inconsistencies and denials of any culpability in the deaths, much to the frustration of the families and relatives, as well as Moseneke himself.
Some repeatedly heckled Mahlangu and accused her of lying.
DA spokesperson on health Jack Bloom joined the fray and accused Mahlangu of blatant lying and said she should face criminal charges.
Mahlangu had appointed the top officials and created a climate of fear in which they were afraid to oppose her decision to transfer the patients from Life Esidimeni, Bloom said.
“They should all face criminal charges for their criminal neglect that led to so many deaths."
“It would be wrong for officials to be scapegoats when Mahlangu was the driving force behind this disaster despite all the warnings given,” he said.
“It is vitally important that the police investigation is done thoroughly and concludes soon so that charges are laid and the court can decide the punishment for all those implicated in this atrocity, including Mahlangu, whose lies were clearly exposed at the hearings.”
Meanwhile, Gauteng MEC for finance Barbara Creecy is expected to provide clarity on the provincial health department’s finances when the hearings resume this week.
This is after Mahlangu could not explain if the budget that had been allocated to NGOs had gone through a tender process and if such monies were allocated to the NGOs.
Mahlangu could not answer when Moseneke asked if “the money (had) followed the patients”, among other discrepancies.
Gauteng Premier David Makhura and national Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi are also expected to testify before the hearing.