Premier David Makhura delivers his political report in the legislature. Picture: Bhekikhaya Mabaso/ANA
Johannesburg - “The treatment of mental health patients at Life Esidimeni was shameful; it should never be repeated.”

These were the strong words of Gauteng Premier David Makhura at a media briefing in the Gauteng legislature on Thursday.

Makhura said the families of 143 patients who died after being relocated to various NGOs deserved to know the truth about their ill-treatment.

Makhura was responding to questions about his view on the latest revelations of ill-treatment, gross violation of psychiatric patients’ rights while under the care of these NGOs, some of which did not have licences to care for such patients.

Makhura said he wanted justice for these patients and their families, adding that it was for those reasons that his government appointed Dikgang Moseneke, retired deputy chief justice, to head the alternative dispute resolution (ADR) on the Life Esidimeni hearings.

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“We want justice and accountability. It is for those reasons that we used a force of law to subpoena all those who did not want to testify at the hearings,” he said.

Despite not mentioning names, Makhura was referring to the suspended head of the Gauteng Health Department, Dr Tiego Selebano, who made several attempts to evade testifying, including applying for an interdict in the high court in Joburg. The court ruled against him.

Suspended director of mental health Dr Makgabo Manamela also made several failed attempts not to give evidence.

The evidence so far has implicated both officials in the illegal transfer of patients from the Life Esidimeni medical facility to unsuitable and illegal NGOs since April 2016.

Makhura, during his presentation of his political report, said the Life Esidimeni tragedy had exposed deep institutional problems within the public health system and serious governance failures which compromised the quality of care of millions of people who depend on the public health system, especially the poor and most vulnerable, such as those who use mental health services.

He said urgent steps needed to be taken to turn around the Gauteng Department of Health’s performance.

“It is for this reason that, in addition to appointing the special cabinet committee, provincial and national government have jointly appointed an intervention team of public health experts and managers to support Health MEC Dr Gwen Ramokgopa in turning around the department’s performance.

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“They should do so by attending to all the deep structural and financial problems. We are confident that this intervention will succeed,” the premier said.

Makhura said the deaths of 143 psychiatric patients was a tragedy that could have been avoided.

“We are working with their families to ensure that all the recommendations and corrective steps outlined in the report of the Health Ombud, Professor Malegapuru Makgoba, are fully implemented to ensure full accountability, justice and closure for the families.

“All those involved in this tragedy need to understand that there can be no closure for the families without full disclosure. And no closure without accountability and answerability.

“The disciplinary processes and criminal investigations are also under way to ensure that everyone responsible is brought to book. No one must escape accountability and answerability,” the premier said.

The Star