Ethel Ncube, the founder of Precious Angels NGO. Picture: Khanyisile Ngcobo/IOL

Johannesburg - Government officials and NGOs were seemingly protecting themselves in order to stay out of jail, said Christine Nxumalo, whose sister Virginia Machapela died at the NGO, Precious Angels, adding that she was hoping to hear the truth on the Life Esidimeni tragedy on Monday.

Nxumalo is one of the victims' family members testifying on the third week of the arbitration hearing chaired by retired Justice Dikgang Moseneke.

"Our understanding when we got onto the arbitration was that we would get answers, but all officials have not offered any answers...and that makes me angry. What they did rather was to protect themselves, we're in the third week now and we are exactly where we were when this arbitration started," she said.

"I was hoping that Ethel Ncube [owner of Precious Angels] would not come here and cry her crocodile tears but offer the truth on what happened to my sister...and why she lied about the date of death...not to come here and cry feeling sorry for herself. [Gauteng health department’s chief director of planning Levy] Mosenogi did not say anything either, he was project leader but said nothing."

Nxumalo said the arbitration was supposed to start the healing process, but the fact that there were no answers as to what happened to her sister and no pathological report, the hearing was not helping.

She said the heads of NGO such as Ncube should "stop telling us what they think we need to hear" but admit that they did not have the expertise, were not able to care for or feed the patients.

Advocate Adila Hassim, who represented over 50 families of the Esidimeni victims on behalf of rights organisation Section 27, asked her if she wanted to hear from any other government official.

"I want to hear from [Gauteng's director of mental health Dr Makgabo] Manamela, [former health MEC] Qedani Mahlangu, she needs to come testify and tell us what happened, she signed off all of these as MEC, and the former HOD [Barney Selebano]...even with us protesting they went ahead and moved the patients," Nxumalo said.

Nxumalo said it seemed the officials and NGO heads opted to protect themselves and avoid going to jail. 

Moseneke asked her if she could suggest any method for the arbitration to get to the truth regarding the patients' deaths.

"None of us here knows how they died. I suppose the only way would be to offer them amnesty, I think that is the only way to get them to say something... Judge, I think its a natural reaction to not tell the truth if doing so would get you into jail, that is their reaction."

Machapela had been an Alzheimer patient at Life Esidimeni. Nxumalo, who was part of the family committee formed to argue against the deadly transfers, said she received an SMS in June last year, informing her that Machapela was being moved Cullinan, Pretoria and that Life Esidimeni was closing down. She was later informed that Machapela was at Precious Angels in Atteridgeville, west of Pretoria.

"My sister was happy and joyful at Life Esidimeni...she was gaining weight and even remembered our old jokes,'' Nxumalo said.

Machapela died at Precious Angels. Nxumalo said she struggled to get her sister's body and had to open a police case to try get her body. The funeral parlour where her body was, refused to release the body and demanded that she use their services to bury Machapela.

At least 141 patients died at various unlicensed NGOs across the province after they were removed from Life Esidimeni, part of a private healthcare group.

Mahlangu resigned in the wake of the damning report by Health Ombudsman Malegapuru Makgoba released in February this year. Makgoba found that the patients died of causes that included neglect and starvation.