Gauteng Department of Health’s Chief Director of Planning Levy Mosenogi takes an oath before testifying in the Esidimeni HealthCare Centre arbitration hearing held in Johannesburg. Picture: Supplied/Gauteng Department of Health

Johannesburg - Levy Mosenogi, chief director of planning at the Gauteng Department of Health, who was in charge of the transfer of mentally ill patients from Life HealthCare Esidimeni, told a hearing how he had to halt the transfer of minors to avoid putting their lives in danger.

The arbitration hearing into the death of more than 100 people that had been transferred from Life Esidimeni to unlicensed NGOs is being chaired by retired Justice Dikgang Moseneke.

Mosenogi told the hearing that when he was appointed by former Health MEC Qedani Mahlangu in November 2015 to oversee the transfers, a contract termination notice had already been sent to Life HealthCare Esidimeni a month earlier. 

The department had until March 2016 to find care centres for the mostly chronically ill patients.

At a first meeting with stakeholder organisations such as Section27, concerns were raised about the seemingly hasty process, said Mosenogi.

''The meeting was chaired by HOD [head of departmnet] Dr Barney Selebano, the MEC and family members were there as well in Germiston. The stakeholders raised the concern that moving the patients was going to be problematic,'' he said.

Mosenogi said another Esidimeni centre called Baneng, which cared for minors only, left him concerned after a visit there. He did everything he could to make sure the vulnerable children were not transferred, he said.

Moseneke asked why there was a need to also transfer the 295 children being cared for at Baneng.

''Takalani in Soweto was identified as a suitable place for Baneng. Baneng was part of Esidimeni, whose contract had to be terminated. After my visit to Baneng, I decided to not move them. It hit me after that visit as to how vulnerable the children were,'' Mosenogi said.

Upon realising that there was not enough time to find suitable centres for the province’s mentally ill patients by March, Mosenogi said he asked for more time from the department. 

Moseneke asked him: ''Tell me, what was behind the urgency to transfer people? Why did you not ask for more time?'' asked Moseneke.

''I asked for at least 6 months to a year to successfully complete the transfer, I was given three months. I further proposed, as I submitted to the Ombudsman, that the department purchase Baneng...I did not want the children moved because I really feared for the worst. I did raise issues, expected senior managers to assist me, but I was the lone voice...at some point I was asked if I was the spokesman for Esidimeni,'' Mosenogi said to Moseneke.

He said he was ultimately defeated by the ''system''.

The department finally agreed with Mosenogi to not transfer the children from Baneng.

Mosenogi said he was appointed chief director in 2012 and had previously completed the transfer of patients from Selby Park, a private hospital.

In February, Gauteng Premier David Makhura suspended Selebano in the wake of recommendations by Health Ombudsman Malegapuru Makgoba, following the death of 118 psychiatric patients at ill-equipped facilities of various NGOs. 

At the time, Makgoba's report found that as many as 94 mentally ill patients who were transferred from Life Healthcare Esidimeni to unlicensed care centres died of causes that included neglect and starvation. The death toll figure rose over time as more information was discovered by Makgoba, bringing the number of deaths to 118.

Mosenogi told the arbitration hearing that the reasons behind the termination of the Esidimeni contract was to cut costs and put the contract out to tender, in order allow other service providers to come in.