Life Esidimeni judgment set for July 10

Bertha Molefe with her late daughter Sophie Molefe, a Life Esidimeni tragedy victim. File

Bertha Molefe with her late daughter Sophie Molefe, a Life Esidimeni tragedy victim. File

Published Jun 27, 2024


The long-awaited judgment in the Life Esidimeni inquest is to be delivered on July 10.

On that day, the Gauteng High Court, Pretoria, will rule on whether any health officials should be charged with culpable homicide for their involvement in the tragic deaths of 141 mental health care users.

Eight years later and following an inquest into the deaths during the tragedy which began virtually on July 18, 2021, Judge Mmonoa Teffo is due to recommend to the National Prosecuting Authority whether anyone should be held criminally liable for the deaths.

In 2016, South Africa witnessed one of its worst tragedies - 141 people with mental illness lost their lives. They died from neglect and starvation - allegedly in the hands of those who were supposed to protect them in the public health system.

At the inquest, Section27 argued that the former Gauteng Health MEC, Qedani Mahlangu, the former Director of Mental Health Directorate, Dr Makgabo Manamela and the owner of Precious Angels NGO should be charged with culpable homicide for their involvement in the tragic deaths of the mental health care users who were relocated from Life Esidimeni in 2015 and 2016.

Retired Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke presided over the Life Esidimeni arbitration hearings. File

Section27 represented 44 of these patients who died in conditions of extreme neglect, with many of them being emaciated, dehydrated and suffering from bed sores.

The purpose of the inquest was for the court to determine the cause of the deaths of the patients who died after they were transferred from Life Esidimeni into unlicenced and ill-prepared non-governmental organisations.

The court is also tasked with determining whether, on the face of it, the conduct of any individual directly caused or contributed to these deaths. Following the court’s decision, the NPA will decide on whether to pursue criminal prosecution.

Section27 said it recognises that the judgment cannot restore lost lives and dignity, but it carries the potential to enhance public confidence and reinforce accountability in governance.

“For the families of mental health care users who died after being transferred from Life Esidimeni, and for the many people who have watched as the different legal processes relating to this case have unfolded over the past eight years, it has been a long wait for criminal accountability, and we look forward to Judge Teffo’s decision,” Section27 said.

Section27 in its closing arguments last year (based on the evidence already before the court) argued that the deaths of at least 10 of the mental health-care users were caused by the conduct of Mahlangu, Manamela and the owner of Precious Angels.

The arguments before the court included that Mahlangu made the initial decision to terminate the Life Esidimeni contract. She then continued to make a series of reckless decisions in relation to the project for months while chairing project team meetings.

Director of Mental Health in Gauteng at the time of the Life Esidimeni tragedy, Dr Makgabo Manamela (centre). File

Section27 said this included putting pressure on the Gauteng Department of Health officials to implement the termination (of the) project over an extremely short period of time.

“Mahlangu made these decisions having been warned of the risks of termination, the impracticalities of continuing with the implementation of the project and the insufficiency of measures in place to mitigate the risks and impracticalities,” Section27 submitted.

It also argued that Manamela was the de facto project leader and directly involved in implementation of the termination project.

“She signed licences for NGOs that she knew had not been properly assessed and then failed to ensure that they were paid timeously. She was warned both before and during the implementation of the project about risks and failed to mitigate these risks sufficiently,” Section27 said. Ncube, who was the owner of Precious Angels, should also be held accountable, the court was told.

This institution saw the deaths of 20 mental health-care users, the first of whom died less than two weeks after being moved into her care.

Former Gauteng health MEC Qedani Mahlangu. File

These healthcare officials, during their evidence, denied any liability and mostly pointed the fingers at others.

Mahlangu maintained that she did not make the decision to terminate the contract with Life Esidimeni and was not involved in the implementation and execution of the termination project.

She said that it is only officials who were involved in implementation that may have a case to answer. She is of the view that their conduct also falls short of the requirements for liability.

When it was pointed out that she was informed about implementation, she argued that she was misled. As a result, she said, the judge should not make a recommendation that she be prosecuted.

Manamela also maintained her innocence and said that she did not take the decision to terminate the contract with Life Esidimeni and had previously drafted a plan to reduce beds at Life Esidimeni in phases.

She oversaw the implementation team and tried to assist when problems arose, she said.

Ncube’s argument was that she was not personally responsible for the physical care of mental health care users; and the circumstances at Precious Angels that led to deaths were brought about by officials in the Department.

Pretoria News

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