One would have expected Qedani Mahlangu to stay in the background and, at the very least, put on an appearance of atoning for her role in the Esidimeni tragedy, says the writer. Picture: Simone Kley

Two days after Black Consciousness leader Steve Biko died naked and shackled on a filthy floor in Security Police custody in 1977, apartheid police minister Jimmy Kruger made a statement that would go down as one of the most shameful, staggeringly callous in recent history.

Addressing his party faithful at a National Party Congress, he said (in Afrikaans) of Biko’s death: “I am not glad and I am not sorry about Mr Biko. It leaves me cold (Dit laat my koud).

“I can say nothing to you. Any person who dies I shall also be sorry if I die,” he said in a mockingly nonchalant tone, to ripples of laughter from his audience.

The ANC was a banned organisation at the time, so newspapers were prohibited from publishing what its leaders had to say about Biko’s death or Kruger’s egregious reaction.

But one can safely assume that among the 18 000 mourners at Biko’s funeral in King William’s Town were a significant number of ANC comrades, sickened by the brutal killing of one of South Africa’s foremost liberation heroes.

Which brings me to the recent Life Esidimeni episode, in which more than 140 mental health patients were transferred to ill-equipped non-governmental organisation facilities, and left to die in cold, hunger and loneliness.

This was a tragedy of monumental proportions which horrified the nation.

Much of the evidence of suffering and heartless neglect at the Esidimeni hearings brought tears to my eyes, and I’m sure to many ANC supporters too.

As retired judge Dikgang Moseneke said at the hearing, Qedani Mahlangu was at the helm of the project and “ignored and indeed brushed aside warnings on many levels that death might ensue, and death did ensue”.

With such a cloud hanging over her head, one would have expected Mahlangu to stay in the background and, at the very least, put on an appearance of atoning for her role.

But she had other ideas. Kicking sand in the face of the families still mourning the deaths of their loved ones from Esidimeni, she bounced back by seeking re-election to the ANC’s Gauteng executive.

Here was an opportunity for the ANC to tell Mahlangu where to get off, but they, quite disgracefully, sided with her. One by one, they put up their hand to vote for a person who many believe should have been held criminally responsible for the deaths of so many in a tragedy South Africa will not easily forget.

Is this the same ANC that mourned Biko’s death and was enraged by Kruger’s remarks?

Such insensitivity leaves me puzzled.

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* The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media