Johannesburg - Former Gauteng health MEC Qedani Mahlangu took three months off for political campaigning during the implementation of the Life Esidimeni project.
Mahlangu took off three months in 2016 to help the ANC campaign ahead of the local government elections.
She told the Life Esidimeni alternative dispute resolution hearings on Thursday morning that she didn’t need to be at work because it was up to former head of department Dr Tiego Selebano was supposed to ensure implementation went ahead with no problems.
Mahlangu said political campaigning was “part and parcel of my duties”.
The cancellation of the contract between the Gauteng health department and Life Esidimeni lead to the deaths of 143 psychiatric patients. The patients died from neglect, dehydration and neglect at NGOs - some of which were not registered.
On Thursday morning, Mahlangu defended her time off work claiming she was not completely checked out. "It isn’t correct that I didn’t do any government work at that time. Yes indeed I was doing political work but in between that I had meetings... As much as we were doing political work... we continued to do other work at the same time.”
Mahlangu said Selebano was qualified enough to run the project without her.
It has been a hard morning for Mahlangu and she butted heads with Legal Aid Advocate Lilla Crouse. The two talked over each other a number of times and at some point head of the arbitration Dikgang Moseneke had to intervene.
An agitated Mahlangu told the hearing that Crouse was being unfair on her as she demanded yes and no responses from her. “In politics a yes and no answer isn’t going to help me... it disarms me from expanding.” She didn’t not say who said she must take part in the political campaigns.
As a result of clashing with Crouse, Mahlangu asked for an interpreter and claimed she was being asked technical questions. “I came to the hearings willingly but now I find myself in a difficult situation. The questions I’m being asked are technical. There is no politician in South Africa who can understand them,” an exasperated Mahlangu said.
The hearing continues.