Johannesburg - Former Gauteng health MEC Qedani Mahlangu is far from being off the hook, after a damning judgment that opened the floodgates for tough action to be taken against her for her role in the Life Esidimeni tragedy that killed 144 psychiatric patients.
Reacting just after the hard-hitting order delivered by retired deputy chief justice Dikgang Moseneke, the ANC in Gauteng said Mahlangu will now appear before its integrity committee.
The ANC’s provincial secretary Hope Papo said: “In line with the decisions of the provincial executive committee, Comrade Mahlangu will appear before the ANC’s provincial integrity committee, as part of a process of internal accountability within the party.”
The date of her appearance is still be announced.
When giving his ruling in the Life Esidimeni arbitration hearing on Monday, Moseneke accused Mahlangu, the former head of department Dr Tiego Selebano and the former head of mental health services Dr Makgabo Manamela of feigning ignorance on how bad the mental health marathon project actually was.
He found that the removal of patients from Life Esidimeni facilities to unregistered NGOs was “irrational and cruel”.
Stopping just short of ordering their arrest, Moseneke strongly implored the police to do their job and ensure that justice is served. He ordered that each family receive R1million for constitutional damages; R180000 for trauma and shock; and R20000 for funeral expenses - all of which should be paid within three months.
The money excludes the claimants’ legal fees and counselling, which are expected to also run into millions. Moseneke also ordered that a monument be erected to remember the victims.
This has left the Gauteng government with a massive headache of choosing which projects and services to sacrifice to honour the multimillion-rand Life Esidimeni tragedy compensation.
Moseneke awarded more than R250m to the 144 family members of psychiatric patients who died. The compensation will also be awarded to about 68 survivors of the devastating project.
The arbitration process has already cost Premier David Makhura’s office R47m to cover venue costs, video production, the transportation of family members, lawyers, and sign language and interpretation services.
Provincial government spokesperson Thabo Masebe welcomed Moseneke’s order, and said his office had been preparing for its outcome.
But despite their preparations, Masebe said they will have to consult with the provincial treasury and then adjust their budget in order to meet Moseneke’s ruling.
The amount is also way above the R28m that Gauteng finance MEC Barbara Creecy had allocated to Life Esidimeni, when she tabled her budget last month.
“The Gauteng treasury will allocate a budget and we will have to have a budget adjustment to find the money within the provincial government.
“The R28m was a provisional allocation. We now know how much we have to pay.
“We will go back to the treasury and calculate exactly how much money will be required and ensure that we have the money to comply with the order,” said Masebe.
“The premier said we will comply and that means that we will have to find the money.
“We will follow the process of budgeting, including adjustment. We will meet the deadline,” added Masebe.
He said his office will be responsible for all the Life Esidimeni payouts and he was confident that no services will suffer as a result.
“We anticipated that there would be an order for compensation,” he added.
But Jack Bloom, the DA’s health spokesperson in the legislature, said the province did not have enough money to manage the compensation in such a short time.
“They don’t have the money and can only do the budget adjustment in November, which will be very late because they need to pay everyone by June. They will be left with no choice but to get money from other departments and channel it to the Life Esidimeni payouts,” Bloom said.
Papo said the provincial government needed to do whatever it takes to ensure that the Life Esidimeni matter was speedily settled.
“We welcome the fact that MEC Creecy made budgetary provisions in anticipation of today’s award announcement. Where there are shortfalls, the provincial government should make the necessary adjustments, so as not to inconvenience the affected families,” Papo said.
Moseneke recommended that the Gauteng government report the conduct of the health professionals implicated in the relocation of the Life Esidimeni patients to their respective health boards.
On Monday, Selebano said he was unaware of this decision, but seemed willing to take whatever was thrown at him.
“I didn’t know about it, because I’ve been busy with other things,” Selebano said.
Section27 welcomed the ruling, saying it was a major step towards the new culture of accountability in the public service.
Legal Aid SA, which represented 58 claimants, said they would keep the Gauteng government on its toes to ensure that it complies with the order.
“We are pleased that the rights of the vulnerable have been recognised and upheld. As emphasised throughout this process, the dignity of the survivors was grossly violated, with Justice Moseneke stating that ‘every element of the project trampled on human dignity’,” it said.