Last Monday morning Gauteng citizens woke up to the distressing news that Qedani Mahlangu and Brian Thami Hlongwa were among the 30 additional members elected to the Gauteng ANC Provincial Executive Committee. Coming within days after Johannesburg Mayor Herman Mashaba outed Errol Velile Present - an ANC employee - as a suspect in a cash-in-transit heist, South Africans were desperate for positive stories from the ANC.
News about the election of Mahlangu was particularly hard for the families of those who died in Mahlangu’s ruthless Life Esidimeni Marathon Project - which was about the transferral of mentally ill patients into what Justice Moseneke refers to as “death traps of sites of torture”. However, to understand the roots of the public outrage at Mahlangu’s election, we need to revisit a few sections in Moseneke’s Esidimeni arbitration report, published only four months ago. This wound of the nation is still festering.
Surely the Gauteng ANC leadership, ANC branches and delegates were fully conscious and fully intentional when they nominated and later voted for Mahlangu. In content and tone, the arbitration report begins like a horror movie. In the very first sentence, it is introduced as “a harrowing account of the death, torture and disappearance of utterly vulnerable mental health care users in the care of an admittedly delinquent provincial government”.
Three disagreeable nouns are used to characterise the contents of the report, namely, death, torture and disappearance. The entity under whose watch the death, torture and disappearance of the mental health care users of Esidimeni occurred, namely the Gauteng provincial government is described as “delinquent”. At the helm of the department of the delinquent provincial government which manufactured the 144 deaths of patients, exposed further 1418 poor souls “to trauma and morbidity”, with 44 others unaccounted for, was none other than, Mahlangu.
Elsewhere in his report, Dikgang Moseneke noted that Mahlangu “acted with impunity thinking that she will get away with murder because the (mental health care) users and their families were vulnerable and poorly resourced”. As others have noted shortly after the Moseneke report was published, the reference to “murder” was meant only figuratively and not literally. But perhaps this was a Freudian slip of sorts.
Maybe Justice Moseneke lay awake at night, as he was writing the report, wondering whether Mahlangu and her accomplices were not, in fact, getting away with murder? Did he lie awake wondering whether homicide charges should be preferred and that the whole matter should be referred to a court of law for prosecution? Moseneke further says that Mahlangu “acted with an ulterior motive that remains concealed even after many days of evidence before the hearing”.
Four months later, the nation is no wiser about the ulterior motives that made the Marathon project so urgent and so unstoppable. Instead, the nation is helplessly watching Qedani Mahlangu making her political comeback, just four months later.
Yet there seems to have been no doubt in Moseneke’s mind that Mahlangu and her accomplices used their positions of power to take advantage of vulnerable South Africans and that, having foreseen the possibility of deaths occurring, they pushed ahead nevertheless. Nor was Moseneke unaware of the devastating impact of the Life Esidimeni tragedy on the families affected and on society at large.
“It is also a story of the searing and public anguish of the families of the affected mental health care users and of the collective shock and pain of many other caring people in our land and elsewhere in the world,” he added.
How could Mahlangu accept the nomination? So far the ANC has defended her, using a variety of arguments, including the “innocent until proven guilty” one, the suggestion that her resignation as MEC and her resignation from the provincial working committee means that she is remorseful.
But the findings of Moseneke make clear that Mahlangu cannot be regarded as innocent and that she demonstrated little remorse if any.
Supra Mahumapelo showed remorse when he took early retirement and effected “the essence of the absence of presence” from his position as premier, didn’t he? When Mduduzi Manana, a convicted beater of women, used a last-minute resignation letter to avoid appearing before Parliament’s ethics committee, last week, ANC chief whip Jackson Mthembu hastily bestowed upon him the cheap ANC Order of Remorse.
Nine years ago, well-known journalist and editor, Ferial Haffajee published an article titled “the face of patronage”. It was about Brian Hlongwa and a company called 3P which seemed to be bankrolling him. Nine years later, only nine years later, Hlongwa is being investigated by the SIU. But Hlongwa has just been elected to the Gauteng ANC PEC! Not to worry.
The ANC Integrity Committee will attend to his and the election of Mahlangu into the PEC. But everybody knows that the Integrity Committee of the ANC is either asleep or dead or both. Which begs the question: Has the ANC completely lost its moral compass?
* Professor Maluleke is a Research Fellow at the Centre for the Advancement of Scholarship, University of Pretoria.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media