APOLOGETIC: Gauteng Premier David Makhura greets ANC chief whip Brian Hlongwa after delivering his State of the Province Address at the Gauteng Legislature yesterday. Picture: Nhlanhla Phillips/African News Agency (ANA)
Johannesburg - 'Never again” was the phrase used by Gauteng Premier David Makhura when he vowed that the deaths of 144 psychiatric patients would never be repeated under his watch.

He again made the pledge while delivering the State of the Province Address (Sopa) in the Gauteng Provincial Legislature on Monday.

In his bid to avoid another tragedy, Makhura announced that he would appoint a panel of experts and civil society organisations in April to assist his government to care for mental patients properly.

“The Life Esidimeni tragedy has exposed deep institutional problems within our public health system and public service in general. It cannot be business as usual.

“Serious governance failures have compromised the quality of care of millions of people who depend on our public health system, especially the poor and most vulnerable sections of society such as those who use mental health services.

“The people of Gauteng, I would like to reiterate that the deaths of 144 Life Esidimeni mental health patients is a tragedy that has left deep wounds and pain in the collective memory of our democratic nation.

“It is something that should have never happened and should never happen again,” Makhura pledged.

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He said the Gauteng provincial government had budgeted enough money for mental healthcare services, saying: “I would like to reiterate that the transfer of mental healthcare patients to ill-equipped and unlawfully operating NGOs was never approved by myself or the Gauteng Executive Council.

“However, as the head of government in the province, I have taken full responsibility and accountability for this tragic loss of life of our fellow citizens. I cannot pass the buck. I am the premier of this province. The buck stops with me.

“I take responsibility for anything that goes wrong in the administration I lead. I must face the people and fix the problem.

“I dip my head in shame and once more apologise that this happened under my watch, and I am totally committed to take corrective and remedial action to ensure that this never happens again,” he said.

Makhura again assured family members whose relatives died at the illegal NGOs that he would ensure all those who were criminally liable for the Esidimeni tragedy were prosecuted.

“We keenly await the outcomes of the alternative dispute resolution (ADR) process led by retired deputy chief justice Dikgang Moseneke.

“I am absolutely determined to speedily implement the outcomes of the ADR process in order to ensure redress, justice and closure for the affected families.

"After consultation with the family committee, I will appoint an independent curator who will ensure that all the decisions of retired deputy chief justice Moseneke are implemented,” Makhura pledged.

He said how a nation cared for the most vulnerable in society was a defining feature of that nation's values.

“In April this year I will appoint a panel of experts and civil society representatives who will review our work in caring for the most vulnerable in society - people with mental illness, the elderly, people with disabilities and children.

“Another defining feature of a caring nation is how it looks after its military veterans and the men and women who put their lives on the line for their country,” Makhura said.

He said his office was working with the Department of Military Veterans and municipalities to address the plight of military veterans, saying substantial progress was being made to address their housing, educational, healthcare and public transport needs.

“Urgent steps are being taken to turn around the performance of the Gauteng Department of Health. The minister of health and myself have jointly appointed an intervention team of public health experts and managers to support the Health MEC, Dr Gwen Ramokgopa, in turning around the performance of the Gauteng Department of Health by attending to all the deep structural and financial problems.

“We are confident this intervention will succeed,” Makhura said.

He said the Life Esidimeni tragedy had brought to the fore that there were some public health workers and public officials who treat patients and citizens with disrespect and disdain.

“This is totally unacceptable and is not representative of the tens of thousands of healthcare professionals and workers who are compassionate and dedicated to public service excellence.

“Gauteng province runs the biggest health system in southern Africa, catering for over 20 million visits per annum. It has several centres of excellence, which should be appreciated."

The Star